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Death for freedom

It is a mid-summer morning. May 14, 1934. Central Jail at Gaya in Bihar. A hush-hush commotion is disturbing the eerie silence inside the jail. In the shadow of the twilight, jail authorities gather near the hanging scaffold. Soon a young man is led to the gallows. He is heavily chained and escorted by armed guards. He is in his 20s, handsome and bubbling with enthusiasm. Hands tied behind his back, he stands poised and composed. The hangman puts the noose around his neck. But when he tries to cover his face with a black cap, the young man objects, ‘ I am not afraid of death. I am happy to die for my motherland!' He shouts Bharat Mata ki Jai, Bande Mataram! The magistrate nods, and with a clank of sound, another son of India becomes a martyr.

The jail complex is agog with a seething commotion; a crowd gathers outside its boundary wall. And just a morning-walk-away, the sacred peepal tree at Bodh Gaya is whispering enigmatically, but the Master — the Buddha — is long dead to teach the savage a lesson in love and compassion!

This episode is not public knowledge, nor do many know who this martyr was. In the dark days of the colonial rule, revolutionaries like him came as shooting stars, flashed and vanished. The hero of this episode, Baikunth Sukul, is one of them.

Life sketch

Baikunth Sukul was born on May 15, 1907, at village Jalalpur, P.S. Lalganj in Muzaffarpur (now Vaishali) district of Bihar. Son of a farmer, he taught at a lower primary school. He was initiated into the Congress movement, along with his wife Radhika Devi, by noted revolutionaries like Kishori Prasan Singh and Basawan Singh. He took active part in the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930 and was imprisoned in the Patna jail.

The Bengal Anushilan Samiti was active in Bihar around this time. One of its members, Phanindra Nath Ghose, started, in 1925, a new organisation named Hindustani Seva Dal at Betia in Champaran. Baikunth joined it and carried activities from Hajipur. This organisation had not been declared illegal until then. Soon, Sukul came in contact with the members of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA), led in Bihar by Phanindra Ghose and Jogendra Sukul, and became a very active revolutionary. HSRA had been started in 1928, after the amalgamation of the provincial revolutionary parties in the Punjab, UP and Bihar, with the object of driving the British out of the country with armed revolution. The youth from the Congress were instantly lured to it.

On the occasion of the formation of the HSRA, Phanindra Ghose and Man Mohan Banerjee had been invited to represent Bihar, and Ghose was made one of the seven members of its Central Committee that included Bhagat Singh, Sukhdeo and Chandra Shekhar Azad. Ghose was also placed in charge of the Army in Bihar, and Bhagat Singh and B.K. Sinha were to act as links.

The revolutionaries in Bihar responded very enthusiastically. Apart from continuing attacks on the British and their supporters, they looted government establishments and resorted to dacoities for raising funds and arms for carrying out the activities of their Army. Bhagat Singh also visited Bihar in this connection. Here, intense revolutionary activities went on in Muzaffarpur, Saran, Champaran, Patna and other districts. Its network had reached up to the village level, and participation of women was an important feature. Famous revolutionary Jogendra Sukul was from Baikunth.

Turn of events

Unfortunately for the revolutionary cause, developments took an unexpected turn. Ghose turned approver in the Lahore Conspiracy Case. The members of the Republican Army felt that in comparison to other approvers, the evidence of Ghose was much more responsible for the execution of the three revolutionaries. He was approver in several other cases, too. So, a plan to kill him was hatched by his fellow revolutionaries at the Gandhi Ashram at Hazipur, and Baikunth Sukul was selected to carry out the task.

As planned, Baikunth, along with Chandrama Singh, made a fatal attack on Phanindra Nath and his friend Ganesh Prasad Gupta on November 9, 1932, inside the Mina Bazar at Betia. It was a daredevil operation carried out in the presence of the constable deputed by the government to guard Ghose after he had turned approver. Ghose did not name anyone in his dying declaration and died on November 17, 1932, and his friend three days later on the 20{+t}{+h}.

Incidentally, while escaping from the scene of occurrence, the duo failed to take back their belongings kept a little away. This provided the police with clues to track them down. A washerman's mark on their clothes led it to Darbhanga Medical School. The investigation that followed confirmed that Ghose had been attacked by Baikunth and Chandrama. The Bihar Government offered a reward for their arrest. Chandrama was arrested in Kanpur on January 5, 1933. Sukul was arrested on July 6, 1933, on the Sonepur side of the bridge over Gandak River at Sonepur- Hajipur. He sustained injuries in the scuffle with the police but remained totally unfazed, and shouted revolutionary slogans.

Then comes the end

The accused were put on trial in the Court of the Sessions Judge at Muzaffarpur, but the trial was held inside a faraway jail at Motihari. Sukul realised that the British would not let him live, but he was not afraid of that; rather he appeared to celebrate his imminent death for the nation. Since he was not interested in protecting himself before the law, the British took advantage of the situation to prove him guilty. In February 1934, Sukul was convicted and sentenced to death; Singh was acquitted. When informed of his conviction, Sukul said: “I am ready”; and when he was being taken away, he shouted “ Inkilab Zindabad!”

Subsequently, the Patna High Court confirmed the judgement of the Sessions Court. Accordingly, Baikunth Sukul was hanged to death in the Gaya Central Jail on May 14, 1934, just a day before his 28th birthday. He left behind a young wife without any issue. She spent a lonely life for the next 70 years and died in 2004. An eyewitness account by one of his fellow prisoners and a noted revolutionary, Bibhuti Bhushan Das Gupta, states that Sukul was in a state of unusual exuberance before his execution. In fact, he gained bodyweight since he was condemned to the cell. As if celebrating his ultimate sacrifice on his last night, he sang, in chorus with other prisoners, Tagore's song on death and Ram Prasad Bismil's Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil men hai... .

And when he was being led to the gallows, he was heard singing: Haasi haasi parab phaansi/ Maan dekhabe Bharatbaasi/ Biday de maan phire aasi!

(Laughing I would go to the gallows/ O Mother, people of India will see/ Bid me farewell Mother, I shall come again!)

(Help received from Shri N.K. Shukla, IRS, and author of The Trial of Baikunth Sukul (1999), is thankfully acknowledged.)

The author is Associate Professor of History at the University of Delhi. Email: jnsinha@rediffmail.com

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 3:29:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/death-for-freedom/article2353779.ece

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