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A revolutionary and a poet: Who was Ram Prasad Bismil?

Ram Prasad Bismil was born on June 11, 1897 in a nondescript village in the United Provinces’ (now Uttar Pradesh) Shahjahanpur district.

Today, he is one of India’s most revered freedom fighters, known as much for his revolutionary zeal as for his poetic profundity.

Fighting against the British Raj, he was involved in the Mainpuri Conspiracy of 1918 as well as the more famous Kakori Train Action of 1925. He founded the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA, later Hindustan Socialist Republican Association) and was hanged for his revolutionary activities in 1927.

On his 126th birth anniversary, we remember Ram Prasad Bismil, whose words and actions have inspired generations of Indians.

Early life and Arya Samaj connections

Born into a Rajput Tomar family, Ram Prasad Bismil learnt Hindi from his father and Urdu from a maulvi who lived nearby. He also went to an English medium school in Shahjahanpur. His exposure to multiple languages would develop his instincts as a writer and poet at a very early stage in his life.

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Furthermore, during his childhood, Arya Samaj was becoming an influential organisation in north India. He joined the Arya Samaj and became a prolific writer and poet, penning patriotic verses in Hindi and Urdu under pen names like ‘Agyat’, ‘Ram’, and the one that is most known – ‘Bismil’ (meaning ‘wounded’, ‘restless’).

At the age of only 18, he penned the poem Mera Janm (My Birth), venting out his anger over the death sentence handed out to Arya Samaj missionary Bhai Parmanand.

The Mainpuri Conspiracy

After graduating from school, Bismil got involved in politics. However, he would soon be disillusioned by the so-called moderate wing of the Congress Party. Bismil was not willing to “negotiate” or “beg” for his country’s freedom – if the British did not accede, he was willing to take it by force, as one of his most famous poems, Ghulami Mita Do illustrates.

Duniya se ghulami ka main naam mita doonga,Ek baar zamaane ko azaad bana doonga.”

(Loosely translated: I will erase all servitude from this world, And usher in an age of freedom)

To achieve his ends, he started a revolutionary organisation called Matrivedi (The Altar of the Motherland) and joined forces with fellow revolutionary Genda Lal Dixit. Dixit was well-connected with dacoits of the state and wanted to utilise them in the armed struggle against the British.

In 1918, Bismil wrote arguably his most famous poem, Mainpuri ki Pratigya, which was distributed across the United Provinces in pamphlets, bringing him adulation of nationalist locals and notoriety with the British. That year, in order to collect funds for his fledgling organisation, her carried out at least three instances of looting at government offices in Mainpuri district.

A massive manhunt was launched and Bismil was located. What followed was a dramatic shootout at the end of which Bismil jumped into the Yamuna river and swam underwater to escape.

Founding the Hindustan Republican Association

After his escape, Bismil would remain underground for the next few years, writing avidly but not undertaking any major revolutionary activity. During this time, he released a collection of poems called Man ki Lahar and also translated works such as Bolshevikon ki Kartoot (from Bengali).

In February 1920, when all the prisoners in the Manipuri conspiracy case were freed, Bismil returned home to Shahjahanpur. There he initially worked gathering support for the Congress-led Non-Cooperation Movement but after Gandhi called it off post the incident at Chauri Chaura in 1922, Bismil decided to start his own party.

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Thus the Hindustan Republican Association was formed with Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Sachindra Nath Bakshi and Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee as founding members. Figures such as Chandra Shekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh would also later join the HRA.

Their manifesto, largely penned down by Bismil, was officially released on January 1, 1925 and titled Krantikari (Revolutionary).

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It proclaimed, “The immediate object of the revolutionary party in the domain of politics is to establish a federal Republic of United States of India by an organized and armed revolution.” The manifesto looked at these revolutionaries as “neither terrorists nor anarchists… they do not want terrorism for terrorism’s sake although they may at times resort to this method as a very effective means of retaliation.”

Their envisioned republic would be based on universal suffrage and socialist principles, importantly, the “abolition of all systems which make the exploitation of man by man possible.”

The Kakori Train Action

The train robbery at Kakori in August 1925 was HRA’s first major action. Revolutionaries planned to rob the train between Shahjahanpur and Lucknow, which often carried treasury bags meant to be deposited in the British treasury in Lucknow. They believed that the money belonged to Indians anyway, and would fund their activities as well as generate publicity through this action.

On August 9, 1925, as the train was passing the Kakori station, about 15 km from Lucknow, Rajendranath Lahiri, a member of the HRA who was already seated inside, pulled the chain and stopped the train. Subsequently, around ten revolutionaries, including Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan, entered the train and overpowered the guard. They looted the treasury bags (containing approx Rs 4,600) and escaped to Lucknow.

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However, the robbery both enraged the British and upset the Indian public. Due to a misfiring Mauser gun, one passenger (a lawyer named Ahmad Ali) was killed during the robbery – dampening the response to it from the public at large.

What followed was a violent crackdown with almost everyone (with the exception of Chandrashekhar Azad) involved in the Kakori Train Action arrested. Bismil was picked up in October.

Death and legacy

After an eighteen month long trial, Bismil, Ashfaqullah and Rajendranath Lahiri were sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out on December 19, 1927. Ram Prasad Bismil was just 30 years old when he died.

But his legacy lives on, mainly through his poetry. Ram Prasad Bismil was an extremely prolific writer. His poems were not only meant to inspire fellow Indians to join the freedom struggle, they also reflected a deep concern for society and universal principles of equality and human dignity. In Ghulami Mita Do, Bismil says:

Jo log gareebon par karte hai sitam nahak,Gar dam hai mera kayam, gin gin ke saza doonga.”

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(Loosely translated: Those who oppress the poor unjustly, if there is life in my body, I will punish each and everyone.)

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Today, Ram Prasad Bismil has also become a symbol of communal harmony due to his close friendship with fellow revolutionary poet Ashfaqullah Khan. In his last letter, written just before his hanging, Bismil made an enduring call for Hindu-Muslim unity in the service of the nation.

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He wrote (translated here): “If a devoted Muslim like Ashfaq could be the right-hand man of an Arya Samaji like Ram Prasad in the revolutionary movement, then why can’t other Hindus and Muslims unite forgetting their petty interests? … Now my only request to my countrymen is that if they have even an iota of sorrow at our death, then, by whatever means, they must establish Hindu-Muslim unity; that is our last wish and only that can be our memorial.”

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