Oct 30, 1928, past his 60’s, with an imposing personality, he stood on the stage at Lahore, and roared in a defiant voice.
“Every blow on our bodies this afternoon is like a nail driven into the coffin of British imperialism.”
The man had received terrible lathi blows on his chest earlier while leading a protest against the Simon Commission, add to that he had to endure humiliation from the British. That man was none other than the “Punjab Kesari” Lala Lajpat Rai, one of the members of the Lal-Bal-Pal trio, the others being Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal, the so called extremist faction of the Congress. 17 days later on Nov 17, 1928, the great man died of the injuries caused to him by the lathi blows. In 1865, in a tiny village called Dhudika, in the Ferozepur district of Punjab, on the 28th of January, Lala Lajpat Rai, was born to an Urdu teacher, Lala Radha Kishan and Gulab Devi. Born into a family that valued, freedom and self-respect, Lajpat Rai, imbibed the values, that were to define him. Growing up amidst poverty, Lajpat Rai, nevertheless managed to complete his education, studying law at Govt. College, Lahore. The stint at Lahore’s Govt College, was what shaped Lajpat Rai’s value system too. Reading up on India’s glorious past, and the great people that walked across the land, Lalaji felt tears welling up as he thought of the present state of degradation under the British rule. It was at that very moment that Lalaji swore to fight for freedom and serve India. The Arya Samaj founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati was attracting a whole lot of youths in Punjab due to it’s progressive, reform minded ideals, Lala Lajpat Rai was one of them. In 1882, Lajpat Rai, joined the Arya Samaj, when he was just 16, the ideals of freedom and service to society by then had fully taken root in his mind. The idea that India could prosper only if the chains of slavery were broken, was firmly rooted in Lalaji’s mind.
However forced to support his family financially, Lala Lajpat Rai, took up the post of a muktiar, a minor lawyer, at Jagrav when he was just 18. On finishing his law course, Lalaji began to practice in Hissar. For Lala Ji, however, his aim was the freedom of India, he had no thoughts of settling down in his law practice and leading a comfortable life. He was inspired by the bravery and patriotism of the great Italian nationalist Mazinni, after reading a book about him. It was the period spent in Hissar, that shaped Lala ji’s career and life too. After the death of Swami Dayananda, it was Lalaji along with his friends who started the Dayanand Anglo Vedic College( DAV) to spread a more nationalist, Hindu oriented education. From his salary as a lawyer, Lalaji ensured his father would live comfortably enough, by setting aside some money for him. The major part of his salary was spent by Lalaji on the Arya Samaj activities and setting up branches, as also spreading education. Lala Ji was a devout follower of Arya Samaj, implementing it’s ideals of reformation of society, spread of education and advancement of Hindu Dharma. Though a devout Hindu, Lala Ji managed to win the respect of people of all religions, for his integrity and outlook. In 1888, Lalaji joined the Indian National Congress, when he was still a lawyer, at the same time, the Muslim leader, Syed Ahmed Khan left the party, saying it did not represent Muslim interests. Syed Ahmed Khan, argued that Muslims should not support the Congress, but the British Raj. A furious Lalaji wrote bitter open letters to him, in the Urdu weekly Koh-i-noor. At a young age of 23, Lala Lajpat Rai’s reputation spread quickly in the Congress, for his speeches and his dynamism, he received a tumultuous welcome, wherever he went. Lalaji felt Hissar was not adequate for his ambitions, and he migrated to Lahore in 1892, where he practiced as an advocate at the Punjab High Court. During the 1893 Congress session at Lahore, Lala Ji, worked hard,to make it a success, Dadabhai Nauroji was then the President. At the same time, there was a split in Arya Samaj, Lalaji, ensured that the DAV College would take shape, and he backed it all the way.
Lalaji was also an outstanding writer, he wrote the biographies of the great Italian nationalists Garibaldi and Mazinni in Urdu. He also wrote books about Shivaji Maharaj , Lord Krishna and Swami Dayananda, through which he exhorted people to fight for their freedom and Dharma. By now the British Govt saw Lalaji as a threat and sought to arrest him. Lalaji truly believed in the concept of Manava Sevaye, Madhava Seva( Service to Humanity, is Service to God). When the Central Provinces were struck by a devastating famine in 1896, it was Lalaji who reached out to the people. It was the time when Christian missionaries, were preying on the people’s miseries there. Again Lalaji bought around 250 orphaned children from Jabalpur, Bilaspur, and placed them in Arya Samaj run orphanages. He did the same in 1898, when a far more severe famine struck Kathiawar, Rajasthan, rescuing many destitute, orphaned children. Around 2000 people were saved, and provided with food, clothing, education, employment and also saved from efforts of Christian missionaries to convert them. Again in 1905, when an earthquake devastated Kangra region, Lalaji extensively toured Punjab, raising funds, and collected money extensively.
During his tour of England along with Gopal Krishna Gokhale, he played a major role in educating the public about the pitiable state of Indians under the British Raj. He was now more than convinced that only freedom was the way out for India, and he raised these views in the 1907 Surat session of Congress. 1907 was when the 50th anniversary of the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857 was being observed, Lahore and Rawalpindi were rocked by protests, peasants in Punjab were angry at Govt proposal to increase water rates. Lalaji openly backed the peasants, an act that made the British Govt look at him like a criminal, as Sir Denil Ibson, the Lt Gov of Punjab observed
It appears that some leaders like Lalaji have sworn to drive the British out of India. An attempt is being made to kindle hatred Against Englishmen and break the government administrative machinery.
In addition to this unjust laws like Colonial Settlement Act and Land Mortgage Amendment Act were causing widespread agitation against the Govt. Sensing Lalaji as a threat, he was arrested and deported to Mandalay, along with Ajit Singh( uncle of Bhagat Singh). There were widespread protests against this act by the Govt. Tilak wrote in Kesari.
If the British rulers act like the Russian Czars, the people of India will have to react as the people of Russia did.
Faced with massive outcry against the deportation of Lalaji, the Govt was forced to bring him back from Mandalay to Lahore and set him free. So great was Lalaji’s popularity among the masses, that he easily won the elections to the Lahore Muncipal Council in 1911. When WWI, broke out Lalaji was in England that time as a representative of Congress from Punjab. However sensing that he could be detained indefinitely, if he were to return to India, Lalaji left to America, where he lived a period of exile. Touring US, Lalaji made many speeches about the condition of India under British rule and also wrote many books there. It was during his stay in America, that Lalaji established the Indian Home Rule League in New York, and also started the journal Young India. Lalaji also wrote two books Arya Samaj, and England’s Debt to India, during his exile in the US, and the movement gained support there from many ordinary Americans. He also visited Japan in the interim, and won the admiration, respect of many people there. In 1919, after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Lalaji desired to return to India, with the War also over now, by this time, Lalaji was successful in convincing many of the Americans and Englishmen of the need for freedom.
When Mahatma Gandhi announced the Non Cooperation Movement in 1920, Lalaji along with Ajit Singh jumped into the movement whole heartedly. Punjab was bought to a grinding halt, as schools, colleges were boycotted, work was affected in courts and offices. When Lalaji undertook a tour of Punjab for collecting money, people voluntarily donated, such was the man’s appeal among the masses. In 1921, Lalaji was arrested, and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment, due to which his health suffered in jail and he became ill. The Govt again had to release Lalaji after there was a massive public protests and he spent time in Solan, HP to recover. Lalaji strongly worked for the interests of Hindus, he recognized that some day or other, the Muslims would soon demand a separate nation. When riots broke out in Kohat( currently in NWFP of Pakistan), in 1924, around 150 Hindus were killed and another 400 forced to flee to Rawalpindi. It was again Lalaji who stood by them, and he started movements for Organizing Hindus. In 1925, Lalaji emphasized the need to preserve Hindu Dharma at a Hindu Mahasabha conference, and in 1926, he also attended the International Labor Conference at Geneva. When Katherine Mayo wrote Mother India, that provided a totally one sided view of India, which Mahatma Gandhi called a gutter inspector’s report of India, Lalaji answered her back through his book Unhappy India. With the failure of the Non Cooperation movement, the British Govt appointed a commission headed by Sir John Simon and 6 other members, for political reforms. It was entirely made up of Whites, and there was not one single Indian member in it. Lalaji resolved to boycott the fraud Commission, and moved a resolution in Central Legislative Assembly Hall in 1928.
The present constitution of the Commission and its terms of reference are unworthy of acceptance by this House; therefore, this House advises the Government that it should have nothing to do with the Commission. Let the members understand that they are slaves in the eyes of the British Government and of the world. When they vote on the resolution let them remember that in 1919, because of a single epidemic, six crores of people died in our country. Let them remember that in this country ten crores of people do not have even one meal a day.
Lalaji’s question was simple, What right did the British Parliament have to frame a constitution for India? Only Indians had the right to decide the future of India. Lalaji toured the whole of India to give publicity to the Motilal Nehru report saying those who opposed it were the enemies of Swaraj and India. Oct 30, 1928 The Simon Commission was expected to arrive in Lahore, there were massive protests with cries of “Simon Go Back”. A sea of black flags covered Lahore, and the protest was led by the Lion of Punjab, Lala Lajpat Rai. The police began to brutally lathi charge the protestor, the then inspector Sanders, ordered them to explicitly target Lalaji who was protected by Sukhdev, Bhagavati Charan and others. The police mercilessly beat Lalaji, all over the body, on his head, leaving him bleeding profusely. The police action on Lalaji led to a massive outcry, however Lalaji advised the youth to observe restraint. Just one word from him would have led to a blood bath. On 17th November, 1928, the Lion of Punjab passed away from the blows rained on him, however as he said, they were the nails hammered in the coffin of the British empire.
Begging or prayer cannot bring freedom. You can win it only through struggle and sacrifice.
Lala Lajpat Rai, was truly a great son of Bharat, a man of many qualities. As an educationist he founded DAV , that would provide yeoman service. National College, Tilak School of Politics were a result of Lalaji’s untiring efforts and vision. The Urdu weekly Vande Mataram, the English weekly People, were founded by Lalaji. And in commerce, The Punjab National Bank and Lakshmi Insurance Company were founded by him. Lalaji was not just a freedom fighter he also built great institutions that last even to this day. As an Arya Samajist, Lalaji tirelessly fought against untouchability, and founded many orphanages for destitute children. The Gulab Devi Hospital , Servants of People Society were the results of Lalaji’s efforts. He also fought for worker’s rights, starting the All India Trade Union Congress, and while a socialist in belief, he was not doctrinaire in his views.
So long as the sun shines in the Indian sky, persons like Lalaji will not die- Mahatma Gandhi