Co-authored by Sophia Rahman
Sophia Rahman, originally from Khand ni Sheri, Jamalpur, Ahmedabad, the area where the Vasant-Rajab duo were martyred, is a U.S.-based professional.
Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi is known for his supreme sacrifice at the young age of 41 years in trying to stop communal violence in Kanpur in 1931, two days after his colleague Bhagat Singh was hanged. He was part of the struggle for freedom both as part of the Congress-led movement and with the revolutionary group led by Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad. Through his newspaper Pratap, he raised issues of common people and became part of the struggle of farmers from Rae Bareli and of mill workers in Kanpur. His involvement in a broad range of progressive issues made him a well-known figure at the national level. But the communal forces were also active at the same time and kept provoking people to violence. Sadly, such a talented person as Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was stabbed to death trying to save the lives of common Muslims and Hindus on the streets of Kanpur. Mahatma Gandhi condoled his death by saying he was proud of him and wished to die for the cause of communal harmony.
Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqulla Khan were known for their thick friendship through the Indian freedom struggle, vitiated by communal strife. These revolutionaries along with Thakur Roshan Singh and Rajendra Lahiri were convicted in the Kakori train dacoity case and hanged in four different jails of United Provinces in 1927. Their ages were between 26 and 35 years. To embrace death at such a young age for the cause of freedom of the country is remarkable. They had no other dreams. In the present times of consumerist lifestyles, it may be difficult to imagine the depth of commitment of these handfuls of youth and even others who laid down their lives fighting for the cause of freedom. For Bismil and Ashfaqulla, with shared interests in poetry as well, freedom mattered as much as Hindu-Muslim harmony and they have become the shining stars of India’s syncretic culture.
Another duo from Ahmedabad, not so well known at the national level, who displayed similar idealism and laid down their lives on 1 July 1946 were Vasant Rao Hegiste and Rajab Ali Lakhani. During the Rath Yatra, an annual Hindu religious festival, in a communally charged atmosphere Vasant Rao was trying to protect the Muslims from a Hindu mob and Rajab Ali was attempting to save the Hindus from another Muslim mob. However, their community mobs killed both of them. Such was the madness overtaking people at that time.
Given that Gujarat, now a thoroughly communally polarised state, is looked up to by the Hindutva brigade as a model to be exported and replicated elsewhere in the country, it is a welcome surprise that there is a history of Vasant-Rajab having laid down their lives for the cause of upholding communal harmony.
With the rise of communal politics since the emergence of the Bhartiya Janata Party backed by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh at the national scene, this country has been ripped asunder on religious lines. A deliberate attempt has been made to spread hatred, often based on lies and half-truths, so that apartness has been created in people belonging to different religions who had a tradition of living harmoniously. Different tools have been used like claiming ownership of historic mosques, demolishing churches, mob lynching people suspected of cow slaughter, targeting couples in inter-religious marriages, or sometimes without any reason merely because somebody belongs to a minority religion people are harassed so that the Hindus can be mobilized around an emotional issue. A certain assertiveness is also visible in Hindus when celebrating their festivals and going to temples, which is quite contrary to the tolerant and accommodating Hindu way of life because Hinduism has survived for so long. And all this is being done for no other reason than to polarise the votes so that BJP can capture power and implement the Hindutva agenda. This has resulted in a besieged mindset where people feel insecure and are prone to violence. Beginning with the murders of dissenting intellectuals in broad daylight to mob lynchings, targeted harassment, and encounters with the use of bulldozers this country has been witness to many such acts. Manipur is the latest case in point.
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India is reaching a point where people will have to decide now what kind of country they want. Do they want an aggressive Hindu rashtra where the minority is under constant attack because that is the only thing that keeps the majority together? In addition, the majority is always fed hatred against the minority so that they cannot think of other things which impact their quality of life. Or, we want an India which was dreamt of by the likes of Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Thakur Roshan Singh, Rajendra Lahiri, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, Vasant Rao Hegiste, Rajab Ali Lakhani, Mahatma Gandhi and many others who laid down their lives to realize the values of equality, justice, and communal harmony. Notably, all the abovementioned who may have differed in their ideologies and working methods were in agreement about their vision of India.
On the anniversary of the martyrdom of Vasant and Rajab let us remind ourselves that there is another Gujarat model which should inspire us for the creation of a country and society which is shaped by the values of all the martyrs of our freedom struggle.
Watch this video:
“शहीद भगत सिंह को असेम्ब्ली बम कांड में नहीं हुई थी फाँसी”- भाग 1 | “गौरव गाथा”
Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Social Activist & Professor at IITs & IIMs