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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

sad tale of Chauri Chaura ~ the train and its place in Indian history

Indian Trains have Names besides the Numbers. As you would know, Trains now have 5 digit numbers – earlier they were 4 digits.  Many a  train are named after Gods, rivers, important places in the origin or destination – ……. and regularly more get added to the long list..  Some are named after personalities and some after traits too.. there are some luxurious trains too……. Train no. 15003 [15004 in return direction] has a total of 31 halts and 52 Intermediate Stations from Kanpur Anwarganj to Gorakhpur Junction  covering a distance of 552 kms. in 14 hours 5 minutes.  It is named after a small town in Gorakhpur district.  Though it was once for Dal and Gud (Pulses and Jaggery) Mandi – it is now remembered for a poignant incident.   Some of its halts are at : Deoria Sadar; Bhatni Junction; Salempur Junction;  Varanasi, Bhulanpur,  Allahabad, Fatehpur, Kanpur.

Without beating around, it is Chauri Chaura.  Nearby attractions in Chauri Chaura include the famous Tarkulaha Devi Temple. Besides the long mela, people from far flung locations visit  here  to shop for their annual requirements of Garam Masala (Indian Spices) and to enjoy the traditional ‘Nautanki’ (drama), Nag Kanya shows and small circuses.  It is connected by road due to its  proximity to the famous Buddha circuit ( Buddha Paripath) comprising of Naugarh (Kapilvastu), Sarnath, Bodh Gaya and Kushi Nagar.

India will ever remember sadly the ‘Chauri Chaura incident’ that occurred in   February 1922, when a large group of protesters participating in the Non-cooperation movement turned violent, leading to police opening fire and in retaliation the burning of police station. The incident led to several deaths of both civilians and police and The Indian National Congress halted the Non-cooperation Movement on the national level as a direct result of this incident.  It is reported that the crowd consisted of volunteers of Indian National Congress as well as Khilafat Movement who were together participating in the Non-co-operation movement started by Mahatma Gandhi.

On the fateful day, thousands had gathered to picket the liquor shop at the local market in Chauri Chaura.  As the crowd was protesting the arrest of a leader, One of their leaders was arrested and  the crowed was protesting seeking release. Armed police were dispatched to control the situation while the crowd marched toward the market and started shouting anti-government slogans. In an attempt to frighten and disperse the crowd, the police fired warning shots into the air but this only agitated the crowd who began pelting the police with stones. With the situation getting out of control, the sub inspector ordered the police to open fire on the advancing crowd, killing three and wounding several others.  That set the mob berserk – the outnumbered police fell back to the shelter of the police chowki while the angry mob advanced.  The chowki was set ablaze killing those inside. 

Two days before the incident on 2nd  Feb 1922, volunteers participating in the Non-cooperation Movement, protesting for a fair price had been beaten by the Police.  On 4th, the picketing of liquor shop went awry.   In response to the police killings the British authorities declared martial law in and around Chauri Chaura. Several raids were conducted and hundreds of people were arrested.  Gandhiji went on a  five-day fast as penance for what he perceived as his culpability in the bloodshed.  Hhi He was of the opinion  that the Indian people were ill-prepared and not yet ready to do what was needed to achieve independence. Gandhi was also arrested and sentenced to six years of imprisonment but was later released in February 1924, on grounds of his ill health.

On February 12, 1922, the Indian National Congress halted the Non-cooperation Movement on the national level as a direct result of the Chauri Chaura tragedy. But British did not halt it at that.  A total of 228 people were brought to trial on charges of "rioting and arson" in conjunction with the Chauri Chaura affair. Of these 6 died while in police custody, while 172 were sentenced to death by hanging following conviction in a trial which lasted eight months.

A storm of protest erupted over the verdicts, which were characterized as "legalized murder" by Indian Communist leader M.N. Roy, who called for a general strike of Indian workers. An year later in Apr 1923, the Allahabad High Court reviewed the death verdicts; 19 death sentences were confirmed and 110 were sentenced to prison for life, with the rest sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.  The people of the district did not forget their freedom fighters. In 1971, they formed an association called - Chauri Chaura Shaheed Smarak Samiti. In 1973, this Samiti constructed near the lake at Chauri Chaura a 12.2 meters high triangular minaret on each side of which a martyr is depicted hanging with a noose round his neck. Later another Shaheed Smarak was built by Government of India to honour those hanged for Great Freedom Struggle. This tall memorial has names of those hanged engraved.

Indian Railways named a train to honor martyrs of Chauri Chaura. That is  the Chauri Chaura Express, running  from Gorakhpur to Kanpur.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

28th Jan 2015.

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