One of the most important Indian revolutionaries was born in 1906.
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Chandrashekhar Sitaram Tiwari, better known as Chandrasekhar Azad, one of the most important Indian revolutionaries, was born in 1906 in Uttar Pradesh.
Azad was only 12 years old when, in 1919, the Amritsar massacre occurred, where fifty British Indian Army soldiers, under the command of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, opened fire on an unarmed gathering of men, women and children. The firing lasted for ten to fifteen minutes, until ammunition was running short leaving 379 dead and 1,100 wounded.
Though he was not involved in the massacre, he was deeply troubled by it and, in 1921, when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation movement, he actively participated in the protest movement. While only 15 years old, he was arrested for his first act of civil disobedience and when the magistrate asked him his name, he said “Azad” (meaning free).
For this, he was sentenced to fifteen lashes. With each stroke of the whip, young Chandrasekhar shouted “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” [“Hail The Motherland!”]. From that point onwards, he became known as Chandrashekhar Azad and vowed never to be taken alive by the police again.
When Gandhi suspended the struggle in 1922 due to the Chauri Chaura massacre of 22 policemen as he was appalled by the brutal violence, Azad did not feel that violence was unacceptable in such a struggle and he soon became attracted to more aggressive and violent revolutionary ideals and thus committed himself to complete Indian independence by any means.
Towards this end, he formed the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, whose goal was full independence and he wanted to build a new India based on socialist principles. He became a mentor to a number of revolutionaries including Sukhdev Thapar, who once wrote a famous letter to Gandhi protesting against his disapproval of revolutionary tactics, and shedding light on the disparities between the two major schools of thought among Indian freedom fighters.
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Azad chose the city of Jhansi in northern India for his organization’s hub. In the nearby forest of Orchha, he and his followers set up a shooting range from where they could practice and train and Azad established himself as an excellent marksman. Though he lived their under an alias, he established a good rapport with the local residents and even taught schoolchildren from another nearby village.
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From this base of operations, he and his compatriots planned and executed several acts of violence against the British. He was involved in numerous such activities like the Kakori Train Robbery in 1925, the attempt to blow up the Viceroy’s train in 1926, as well as the assassinations of prominent figures.
The British soon clamped down on his revolutionary activities and rounded up many of the participants in the train robberies, sentencing them all to death, however Azad eluded capture.
Azad’s end did eventually come in 1931, at the age of only 24. On February 27th, a Hindi writer/journalist spotted Azad and Sukhdev Thapar discussing some plans and reported their presence to the police. Within a few minutes policemen surrounded the entire park. During the initial encounter, Azad suffered a bullet wound in his thigh, making it difficult for him to escape but he made it possible for Sukhdev to escape by providing him covering fire.
After Sukhdev’s escape, Azad managed to keep the police at bay for a long time but finally, with only one bullet left in his pistol and being completely surrounded and outnumbered, Chandrashekhar Azad shot himself, keeping his pledge to never be captured alive.
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Azad is today considered a hero in India. Alfred Park, where he died, was renamed Chandrashekhar Azad Park, as were scores of schools, colleges, roads and other public institutions across the now independent nation. Countless films have been made of his life and exploits, a secret file related to Azad is still kept in India’s Criminal Investigation Department and the COLT pistol with which he shot himself with is still on display in the Allahabad Museum.