Bipin Chandra Pal
THOSE who could speak out against the British, spoke; those who could write forcefully against their oppressive policies, wrote; and those who couldnt do either fought. Bipin Chandra Pal had all these qualities - he was an outstanding orator, writer, and fearless fighter. Along with Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai, he formed the dreaded trio of Bal-Pal- and Lal. A diehard nationalist, Bipin Chandra Pal believed that Swaraj could not be had as a gift, but had to be won by sacrifice and suffering.
Bipin Chandra Pal started his life as a teacher, and worked in places as far apart as Bangalore and Lahore. He shot into limelight in 1907 because of his spellbinding speeches as a member of the Brahmo Samaj. The same year he was tried for refusing to testify against Sri Aurobindo Ghose, when the latter was charged with sedition. Rather than betray a freedom fighter and friend, Pal chose voluntary exile.
A first class writer, his association with the press was enduring. For a while he was editor of The Tribune when it was being published from Lahore He was also associated with The New India, Bande Mataram, The Swaraj, The Independent, The Democrat, and The Bengalee. Reiterating the importance of total freedom and exhorting Indians to not depend on the British for salvation, he said that we "cannot any longer suffer ourselves to be guided by them in our attempts at political progress and emancipation. Their point of view is not ours. The desire to make the Government of India popular without ceasing, in any sense, to be essentially British; we desire to make it autonomous and absolutely free of British control".
Bipin Chandra Pal believed that the national movement of India should essentially be spiritual, and to regard it as merely economic or political was to miss the point altogether What is the use of liberating the body if the soul is still in chains. In his book The Rise of New Patriotism, he says that protest is always demoralising, unless it it followed by appropriate action.
Soon Bipin Chandra Pals fame spread like wildfire all over India.You had to just mention his name and people would come in hordes to listen to his inspiring speeches. In the days before the arrival of loudspeakers, he could sway the masses with his faultless oratory and thundering voice. V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, himself a great orator, once recalled: "Oratory had never dreamt of such triumphs in India. The power of the spoken word had never been demonstrated on such a scale." Commenting on Pals evocative writing, Lord Aetland, Secretary of State for India, observed:"His pen played no inconsiderable part in the social and political ferment that has stirred the waters of Indian life." Sri Aurobindo regarded him as one of the mightiest prophets of nationalism.
When everything was
going right for him he made a fatal move by opposing the
Non-cooperation Movement. His risked popularity by saying
Gandhi had magic not logic. Unfortunately for him,
Gandhis popularity was at its zenith, and this
forced Pal into the backwaters of the Freedom Struggle.
In the dusk of his life, he was a sad figure, eking out a
living writing articles for newspapers and magazines.
Sir Surendranath Banerjea
WHEN sepoy Mangal Pandey triggered off the First War of Independence in 1857, Surendranath Banerjea was about nine years old. It is quite likely that the event must have had some impact on him, for he grew up in a turbulent phase of Indian history. There was revolution in the air, and with strong influences like Keshub Chandra Sen, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Bankim Chandra, Surendranath Banerjea was drawn into the eye of the storm.
After a brilliant academic record, Banerjea went to England in 1868 and cleared the coveted Indian Civil Service exam. He was later disqualified because he was supposed to have crossed the age limit. Not the man to let the grass grow under his feet, he moved the Queen's Bench and won. After a brief spell as Assistant Collector, he was framed in a false charge, and dismissed in 1871. His fault: he was outspoken, and was an Indian.
A brilliant scholar that Banerjea was, there was hardly any dearth of jobs for him. He was soon offered the post of Professor of English at Vidyasagar's Metropolitan Institution. As he rose in stature, he founded the Rippon College in 1882 where he taught for the next 40 years of his life.
His revolutionary activities continued in spite of his teaching career. He took over the editorship of The Bengalee and converted into the most vocal organ of the Freedom Struggle. He was held for contempt of court once and sentenced to a two-month jail term. Back at his chair, he severely castigated Lord Lytton's Vernacular Press Act, opposed the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, and the Criminal Law emergency Powers Bill recommended by the Rowlatt Committee. "The triumphs of liberty are not won in a day," he told his countrymen, "Liberty is a jealous goddess exacting in her worship and claiming from her votaries prolonged and assiduous devotion."
A man of unusual foresight, Surendranath Banerjea played a leading role in the first meeting of the National Conference held in Calcutta in 1883, but when the Indian National Congress was formed in 1885, he was conveniently ignored. He attended the subsequent sessions of Congress, and presided over the annual sessions in Poona (1895) and Ahmedabad (1902). He made his voice heard when leaders like Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Ajit Singh and Dr. Annie Besant were arrested. He was deeply hurt when the Moderates parted company from Congress.
When in 1905, defending his decision to partition Bengal, Lord Curzon declared, "Bengal partition is a settled fact", Surendranath Banerjea shot back, "I shall unsettle the settled fact." Curzon ignored the words, failed in his sinister plan, and went on to make an inglorious exit from India.
Known for his fearlessness and an inflexible will, Surendranath Banerjea earned the sobriquet 'Surrender Not Banerjea'. But this diehard nationalist made one tactical mistake. At the time when responsible leaders were either denouncing or returning their knighthood, Banerjea accepted one in1921. The immediate result was that in the election to the Provincial Legislative Council held in 1923, he was defeated by a non-entity like Dr. B. C. Roy. It is sad that this doyen of nationalism found himself totally isolated from his people in later years of his life.
"A few shone more brilliantly and with purer lustre," says Srinivasa Sastri in his tribute to Surendranath Banerjea, "but none excelled him in magnitude or spread of illumination. In steady periods and glittering phrases he formulated the ideal of Indian nationality and taught the full meaning and scope of Indian patriotism. Surendranath was the morning star that heralded the dawn of our public life."
Another stalwart, Bipin
Chandra Pal said of him: "The one fact that stands
out, above all else in the life and work of Surendranath
Banerjea is that he occupies a front place among that
glorious band, headed by Raja Rammohan Roy, whom history
will proclaim to the future generations of his and other
lands as the regenerators of modern India"
Shaheed Udham Singh
IT all began on Baisakhi Day in the year 1919. A crowd of about 20,000 people had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh to listen to their leaders. But in all their enthusiasm, the crowd had violated an order prohibiting public meetings. As the leaders spoke and decried the draconian laws of the government, General Dyer arrived with a posse of soldiers and, in order to teach the crowd a lesson, opened indiscriminate fire without a word of warning. A total of 1650 rounds were fired, 379 men women and children were killed, and 1500 seriously wounded.
Among the crowd was a young man named Udham Singh, who on that fateful day had volunteered to serve water at the gathering. As bullets rained, he ran for cover and witnessed the gruesome slaughter of his countrymen.
The massacre was masterminded by Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the Governor of Punjab who was determined to stop the meeting. Earlier in the week he had warned the people of Amritsar: "I will do all men to death if they defied." He assigned Brigadier General R. Harry Dyer, stationed in Jallundur, for controlling the situation, and to stopping at nothing.
Now Udham Singh's only aim in life was to avenge the death of his countrymen, and he vowed to kill Sir Michael O'Dwyer and General Dyer.
Son of a poor farmer Tehal Singh, Udham Singh lost his mother when he was barely three. Although he was deprived of motherly love, he was quite courageous and brave. It is believed that, once while he was working at a timber estate, a leopard attacked him and other workers. While everyone ran for their lives, Udham Singh stood his ground and fought with the tiger and shooed him away.
But bad days were ahead as his father died soon, and Udham Singh and his siblings had to live with a relation of theirs. Life had become miserable for them because later they were forced to take asylum in the Central Khalsa Orphanage in 1907.
When Udham Singh came of age, he met revolutionaries like Lala Lajpat Rai and Mota Singh. Fate took him to various parts of India, and then to Mombasa, East Africa. He dodged the police by assuming various aliases such as Sher Singh, Ude Singh, Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, and Frank Brazil. After reaching the United States of America, he got in touch with the revolutionaries of the Ghaddar Party.
In spite of the miseries engulfing him, Udham Singh did not forget the sole mission of his life. He finally left for England where he came in contact with other freedom fighters. During one of his secret meetings, his attention was drawn to a poster announcing a meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society, at Caxton Hall. The poster displayed the names of the speakers, and among them were Lord Zetland, Secretary of State for India, Sir Louis Willam, former Under Secretary to the Governor of Punjab, but most importantly Sir Michael O'Dwyer, former Governor of Punjab, and the planner of the infamous Jallianwala Massacre. Udham Singh knew just then and there that his hour had arrived.
On March 13, 1940, when the meeting was in progress, Udham Singh finally caught up with Sir Michael O'Dwyer after 21 years. He managed to get into the hall, and waited patiently for the right moment, and when the opportunity presented itself, he confronted Michael O'Dwyer and fired six shots into his body. Utter pandemonium followed and at the end of it Udham Singh was overpowered, and arrested. While awaiting his sentence, Udham Singh tried to escape but unfortunately he was betrayed by an informer.
A true patriot that he
was, Udham Singh showed great courage in the face of
death. In stead of defending himself, he told the court:
"I did it because I had a grudge against him
[Michael ODwyer]. He deserved it. I do not care. I
do not mind dying, what is the use of waiting until you
get old . . . I have seen people starving in India under
British Imperialism. I am not sorry for protesting. It
was my duty to do so just for the sake of my country. I
do not mind what sentence I get, 10, 20, or 50 years or
be hanged. . . . What greater hounour can be bestowed on
me than death for the sake of my motherland."
Bhagat Puran Singh
WHEN he was just 19, young Puran Singh was moved to tears at the sight of a four-year-old cripple who was abandoned on the steps of gurudwara Dehra Sahib, Lahore. The year was1924, and the young lad he saved and nursed would go on to be his life-long companion. "I became a mother to him," Bhagatji would recall nostalgically, "and he has been a son to me since." This experience led Puran Singh to social work and charity. And there were opportunities aplenty, what with millions lavishing on the streets and dying like dogs.Bhagat ji, or Puran Bhagat would, later in his long life, serve many such persons in need. Pointing at an ailing farmer he once remarked, "I haven't seen God, nor do I need to. But this old man is a living God"
Hailing from Rajewal, Ludhiana, Bhagat Puran Singh learnt to love his fellow human beings and serve them quite early in his life, and in this his mentor was his mother, Mehtab Kaur, herself a tormented woman. Widowed at a very young age, she was taken in by a man who was already married and had children. Because of utter poverty and the stigma of living with a married man, she was forced to move to Lahore along with her teenage son. As Bhagat Puran Singh watched his mother suffer and later die, he took a vow of celibacy and service to the poor and the deprived.
After partition he came to Amritsar and was put up in Khalsa College refugee camp. He continued to serve the needy, and finally after ten years, he founded the Pingalwara (home for the destitute). It is now being run by the All Indian Pingalwara Society, a registered body.
Taking into account his meritorious work, the government honoured him with a Padam Shree, which he actually returned after Operation Blue Star. His admirers lobbied on his behalf for the Nobel Peace Prize that he richly deserved, but unfortunately he was not considered.
But great men like
Bhagat Puran Singh do no work for awards and recognition.
The greatest reward for him was the smile on the faces of
the poor. "We are all human beings. All of us suffer
and all of us need help."
Dr Salim Ali
ON his way to Lake Manasarovar in 1945, Dr. Salim Ali stopped his vehicle, got off it, took out his binoculars and started looking for rare birds of the region. His sharp eyes spotted a bird and he began to pan his field glasses along with it. At times the bird got out of his view, and Dr. Salim Ali had to take a couple of steps back in order to track the bird's flight. This went on for quite some time. Just then the bird watcher heard the sound of falling rocks. His concentration broken, he turned back and saw the boulders fall into the Kali river, many hundred feet below. Had he watched his bird for some more time, he, too, would have gone along with the boulders into the river! Such was the devotion of Dr. Salim Ali to birds that he forgot everything else in life.
In retrospect, it now seems ironical indeed that, Dr Salim Ali, the man who fought all his life for preservation of birds, actually fell in love with birds only after shooting a house sparrow at the age of ten. Picking up the dead bird, he noticed a yellow patch on its neck. Intrigued by it he took the dead bird to his uncle for an answer. Since his uncle was no expert ornithologist, he guided young Salim to W. S. Millard, honourary Secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society. Millard not only answered the inquisitive boys questions, but also taught him to love birds instead of shooting them. The advice was well taken, and the boy grew up to be a 'moving encyclopaedia of birds'.
Born, Salim Moizuddin Abdul Ali, the bird lover instead of furthering his higher education , left for Burma to work work with his brother. "As a boy," decades later he would recall in his autobiography, "I had found it far pleasanter to be chasing birds in pleasant places than doing ridiculous sums in elementary mensurration in the classroom . . . . Birdwatching provided for the excuse of removing myself to where every prospect pleases - up in the mountains or deep in the jungles - away from the noisy rough and tumble of the dubious civilisation of this mechanised high speed age. A form of escapism maybe, but one that hardly needs justification."
It was only after his return to Bombay that he did a course in zoology and later got a job as guide in the museum of the Bombay Natural History Society. But the job would not last long as the Society ran out of funds. Down but not out, Salim went to Germany and came in contact with scholars like Dr. Irwin Strassman.
In 1930 he wrote a paper on the nature and habitat of the weaver bird. This brought him fame, and people began to take him seriously. At a time when nobody knew the overall population of bird distribution in the India, he introduced systematic and logical survey of birds,.
Walking alone in the wilderness for years on end, he collected data from every nook and corner of the subcontinent, including Burma, Sikkim, Afghanistan. Thanks also to generous help from some of the former princes, and much later from the World Wildlife Fund, he was successful in writing volume after volume on birds of the subcontinent. His first book The Book of Indian Birds (1941) was extremely well received, and has run into many prints runs since. Other books met with equal success: The Birds of Kutch (1945); Indian Hill Birds (1949); The Birds of Sikkim (1962); The Birds of Kerala (1969). Then came his ten-volume -magnum opus co-authored with S. Dillon Ripley:Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan, which happens to be the last word on the birds of this region.
In his long career, Dr. Salim Ali, single-handedly identified about 300 birds in the Indian region. One of his most noted theories is that birds have their own language, react in their own way to threat, pleasure, pain. At a time when most bird studies was done in the labs, he was in the field riding a camel in the Rahn of Kutch, or in Ladakh, shooting birds with his 16 mm movie camera, thus making the entire forest his laboratory. Those who have had the opportunity of reading his books, might have wondered at his excellent observations, but they might not have failed to notice and appreciate the wonderful pen sketches that he made of various birds.
Perhaps pressure groups around the world will emulate Dr Salim Alis single-minded devotion to conservation, rather than indulging in mere ideological marches and hunger strikes.