When Ma­hatma Gandhi chose non-vi­o­lence over free­dom

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Sport - Amulya.Gopalakr­ish­[email protected]

Chauri Chaura is a fa­mil­iar name to most school­child­ren. It is the twist in the tale, the in­ter­rup­tion in the In­de­pen­dence move­ment. On Fe­bru­ary 4, 1922, a vi­o­lent mob burned a po­lice sta­tion with 23 po­lice­men trapped in­side, caus­ing an an­guished Ma­hatma Gandhi to call off a suc­cess­ful non-co­op­er­a­tion move­ment.

The event tested and clar­i­fied Gandhi’s prin­ci­ples of non-vi­o­lent satya­graha. Was his aim to get In­dia po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence alone, or was it a more rad­i­cal moral trans­for­ma­tion?

Chauri Chaura is a Bri­tish ad­min­is­tra­tive in­ven­tion — the rail­way sta­tion com­bines the names of two vil­lages Chauri and Chaura, in Go­rakh­pur district. Flank­ing it is the Bri­tish-built po­lice sta­tion, where a white colo­nial memo­rial marks the site of the 1922 car­nage. To­day, mon­keys gam­bol amid the green­ery. The names of the dead po­lice­men are in­scribed here, and a Jai Hind has been painted on the obelisk af­ter In­de­pen­dence.

Across the rail­road is a peo­ple’s memo­rial, ded­i­cated to those who com­mit­ted the vi­o­lence. De­plored by Gandhi and writ­ten out of the na­tion­al­ist story, th­ese men are re­mem­bered here as rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. The

was con­structed be­cause of pop­u­lar de­mand, its foun­da­tion laid by Indira Gandhi. To­day, the memo­rial is be­ing re­built and there are many com­mem­o­ra­tive stones, in­clud­ing one by UP chief min­is­ter Yogi Adityanath.

The atroc­ity might have re­mained one un­savoury event in the free­dom strug­gle, had Gandhi not uni­lat­er­ally called off the strug­gle be­cause of it and dis­avowed the peas­ants who rose up in his name. It re­mained a ter­ri­ble cau­tion­ary tale for him ever af­ter: “The tragedy of Chauri Chaura is re­ally the in­dex fin­ger. It shows the way In­dia may eas­ily go if dras­tic pre­cau­tions be not taken.”

Gandhi held him­self ac­count­able, fasted in penance, asked for the high­est penalty at his trial. For him, no fu­ture goal jus­ti­fied vi­o­lence in the present; it could not be the means to any po­lit­i­cal end. Self-dis­ci­pline was cru­cial to self-sovereignt­y, swaraj.

Few shared this stand. Jawa­har­lal Nehru, Sar­dar Pa­tel and Ra­jen­dra Prasad re­luc­tantly went along, oth­ers like Chit­taran­jan Das and Moti­lal Nehru dis­sented. While they un­der­stood that it was a moral call for the Ma­hatma, they felt let down. Lala La­j­pat Rai said rue­fully: “Our de­feat is in pro­por­tion to the great­ness of our leader”.

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Gandhi’s pro­gramme had been suc­cess­fully fused with the Khi­lafat move­ment of In­dian Mus­lims protest­ing Bri­tish abo­li­tion of the Ot­toman Caliphate, unit­ing In­di­ans in civil disobe­di­ence against the Bri­tish. The Khi­lafat move­ment lost mo­men­tum soon, and com­mu­nal unity frayed.

But in Chauri Chaura, mem­o­ries per­sist at odd an­gles to of­fi­cial his­tory, as sub­al­tern stud­ies his­to­rian Shahid Amin de­tails in his book “Event, Mem­ory, Me­taphor”. Peo­ple de­scribe how the free­dom-fight­ers hid in the jun­gle, came home furtively to see their fam­i­lies. They talk of the re­pres­sion, the col­lab­o­ra­tors who are pros­per­ing, and of lead­ers like Nehru and Madan Mo­han Malaviya who de­fended them at the trial, rather than of Gandhi. “In Chauri Chaura, they didn’t just ac­cept po­lice bru­tal­ity like in Jal­lian­wala Bagh,

It was the first and last event of its kind in the free­dom move­ment,” says Ram Narain Tri­pathi, grand­son of Meghu Ti­wari, who was hanged.

“My great-grand­fa­ther Lal Mo­hammed was a Congress worker. He was offered many in­duce­ments by the po­lice to be­come an in­former, but he re­fused, and pre­ferred to go to the gal­lows,” says 56-year-old Mo­hammed Main­ud­din. He had heard th­ese stir­ring sto­ries from his grand­fa­ther, Suleiman. Main­ud­din used to run a cos­met­ics shop, but now lives off a small re­mit­tance from his son who works as a driver in the Gulf. “Th­ese days, I feel lucky when I go to Go­rakh­pur and back un­harmed. They tell Mus­lims to go to Pak­istan th­ese days, but if my great-grand­fa­ther had done with his we could have been very suc­cess­ful to­day. But he did the right thing,” he says.

Gandhi’s de­ci­sion to call off the move­ment is seen by many in Chauri Chaura as one man’s whim, which set back In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence by decades. The idea of non-vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion is al­most in­ex­pli­ca­ble to those who have any link to the mas­sacre — “if you are beaten, won’t you re­spond,” they ask.

Many here have a cyn­i­cal at­ti­tude to vi­o­lence; the Go­rakh­pur-Deo­ria re­gion has been the site of much mafia crime. “Look at the way po­lit­i­cal lead­ers shoot and kill their rivals. It’s a “

says Tri­pathi, putting it down to the con­tam­i­nat­ing ef­fect of urea. “Vi­o­lence just hap­pens. For in­stance, ev­ery time he sees any­thing about Pak­istan on TV, my 8-year-old grand­son does this (clasp­ing and point­ing his fin­gers in the shape of a gun)”.

The Chauri Chaura in­ci­dent scene from Richard At­ten­bor­ough’s film ‘Gandhi’

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