Imagine your house being invaded by unknown people who proceed to lock you up, rob all the precious things and force you to do whatever they want. The gradual usurping of property, freedom and imposition of a foreign government is similar to a horrific home invasion that our forefathers are well aware of. However, tyranny and brute force could no longer be tolerated, so revolutions broke out year after year; although they succeeded in suppressing most of them, it only led to more significant and more intense rebellions.
And it wasn’t until the mid-20th Century that almost two hundred years of British rule came to an end; millions of people lost their lives, including prominent freedom fighters and social reformers. Therefore, every year on August 15, we celebrate India’s Independence day by commemorating the sacrifices of many freedom fighters who fought bravely throughout their lives. Despite being away from our homeland, we hoist the tri-colour flag to salute the contribution of several significant political and social leaders.
But what about those individuals who were equally committed to the ambition of “Poorna Swaraj” (Declaration of Independence of India) but did not get as much recognition? We are well aware of the names written in golden letters in India’s Independence Struggle. But unfortunately, we don’t know many slain leaders or revolutionaries whose sacrifices are remarkable and noteworthy.
Let us take a look at some of those brave and lesser-known freedom fighters:
Aruna Asaf Ali
Aruna Asaf Ali was born on July 16 1909, and was an educator, political activist and publisher; she participated in the Salt Satyagraha Movement, Quit India Movement, and other protests. She gained prominence when she hoisted the Indian flag at Tank Maidan in Bombay in 1942. Not only this, she even encouraged women to participate in the freedom struggle.
Furthermore, she became an Indian National Congress member and participated in various public processions during the Salt Satyagraha. The British officials arrested her and did not release her until 1931 under the Gandhi-Irwin pact that led to the release of all political prisoners. Although other women co-prisoners refused the jail until Aruna Asaf Ali’s arrest, they eventually gave up when Gandhiji intervened. So, the incident indicated her pivotal role and how she influenced women to participate in the freedom movement.
After her release, Aruna was politically not very active until 1942. She was well-known for her independent streak and even disobeyed Gandhiji’s request to surrender herself in 1946. And after independence, she remained politically active, becoming Delhi’s first Mayor.
Matangini Hazra was born in 1870 in Penury in Hogla village, which is under the jurisdiction of Tamluk Police station in Medinipur. She belonged to a poor household and couldn’t afford early education; eventually, she became a child bride at an early age to a sixty old widower who died shortly after the marriage. Consequently, the 18-year-old widowed Matangini Hazra returned to her village with a young son. Then she began building her separate establishment in her paternal town and spent most of her time helping old and diseased around her house.
Matangini’s active interest in the freedom struggle spiralled in 1905, drawing inspiration from none other than Gandhi. As per the documents, the freedom struggle in Medinapore was characterized by huge women participation.
However, the turning point in her life came on January 26, 1932, known as Indian Independence Day in those days. The village men marched into an awareness procession about the political scenario, and Hazra joined the group at 62. Since then, there has been no looking back for her.
Her vigorous participation in Mahatma Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Movement made her infamous in the police barracks, especially her role in the Salt Satyagraha movement. She made salt in the Alina salt-making factory. Alina is her late’s husband village. It led to her arrest, and people watched a fragile old woman walking several miles without a single frown on her face. She was promptly released.
Gandhi Buri in Bengali translates to the old lady Gandhi. The local people used to call her the old lady Gandhi due to her dedication to following the Gandhian principles of freedom struggle. Her arrest could not deter her from contributing to the freedom struggle.
In August 1942, the local Congress workers planned to protest near various police stations and government offices in the Midnapore district under the leadership of 73-year-old Matangini Hazra.
On September 29, she led six thousand protesters, mostly women, to besiege the Tamluk police station. The police tried to stop the procession, citing Sec. 144 of IPC. But the defiant Hazra stepped forward, appealing to the police officers not to open fire. In return, she was shot in the arm but kept moving forward with the high flag. The following bullet was fired, and it hit her in the forehead taking her life. Later her body was found lying in the pool of blood, holding the flag high, unsoiled.
Peer Ali Khan
The revolt of 1857 has been widely regarded as the first battle of India’s Independence against the British East India Company. Moreover, several vital rulers from their respective kingdoms and civilians participated in the mutiny, including Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and Mangal Pandey. However, very few people know about the unsung hero Peer Ali Khan, one of the earliest rebels.
He was born in Mohammadpur village of Nizamabad district, Bihar state, in 1820; his father was Mohar Ali Khan. As a youngster, Peer Ali left his village to quench his thirst for knowledge, acquired proficiency in Arabic, Persian and Urdu languages, and finally settled in Patna as a bookseller.
His opposition to the excesses committed by the English rulers drove him to become a member of the local revolutionary council. He persuaded Moulvi Mohamadi and a British Government officer to help him procure weapons, with which he organized an adventurous attack on the English Army camp at Danapur. However, the British army officers arrested him along with forty-three revolutionary council members on July 4 1857. The trial of the case conducted against Moulana and his party members was recorded in history as the ‘Patna Conspiracy Case’.
Moulana and nine followers were sentenced to death by hanging by William Tayor. Moulana was tortured during the trial and in custody to extract information from him regarding his revolutionary council members. However, he did not open his mouth even when his body bled with injuries.
Neera Arya was born on March 5 1902, in Khekra Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, in a distinguished & eminent businessman Seth Chhajumal’s family. Since her childhood, She was a true nationalist & always had a vision of becoming a part of the freedom fighter movement. However, she was also reportedly accused of being an undercover agent by the British Government.
During her formative years, she got well-versed in a few languages, including Bengali, Hindi, and English. Her father married her off to a CID Inspector, “Shrikant Jairanjan Das“, in British India, but they were two different individuals; Neera Arya was a true nationalist, but her husband was a true British servant.
Eventually, she joined the Jhansi regiment in Azad Hind Fouj shortly after her marriage; the British Government gave Neera’s husband, the responsibility of spying on Netaji Subhash. Besides, he tried to assassinate Netaji but narrowly escaped death and the bullet of his driver. When Neera found out about the incident, she stabbed her husband to death.
When the Azad Hind Fauj surrendered, a trial occurred in the Red Fort and all the prisoners were released except Neera Arya. She was sentenced to Kalapani and tortured every day by a jailer to retrieve information; she refused to give any information even when the jailer pressed her breasts with an iron tool intended to rip them off. Thankfully, she was released after independence and lived the rest of her life in Hyderabad until her death.
Queen Velu Nachiyar
Long before the revolt of 1857, a princess revolted against the tyrannical British who sought control of her territory and killed her husband. Velu was the only daughter of the Royal couple of the Sethupathi Dynasty and was raised as the Royal heir. Trained in martial arts, horse riding and archery, she could speak several languages, including French, Urdu, and English. The turning point in Velu’s life was when the British – led by the son of the Nawab of Arcot – killed her husband, Muthu Vaduganatha Thevar, in the Kalaiyar Koil War. As a result, Velu and her daughter, Vellachi, were forced to flee from Sivagangai.
Velu reached Dindigul, a distant land from Sivagangai, where she spent eight years under the sanctuary of the then-ruler of Dindigul – Gopal Naicker. At Dindigul, she also met Haider Ali, the Sultan of Mysore, in whose eyes she found favour as she had impressed him with her fluent Urdu and intellect.
In 1780, with the unwavering support of Gopal Naicker and the allied forces of Haider Ali, Velu Nachiyar set out to avenge her beloved’s death and regain control over her Kingdom.
While the British had taken complete control over the Sivaganga Fort in Dindigul, Velu and her military commander, Kuyuili, devised a suicide plan. For the plan to be successful, it was essential to know where the British had stored their arms and ammunition. With Velu’s excellent intelligence sources, she gathered agents who helped her find the armoury chambers in the Fort and soon, they set the plan into action.
On the day of Vijayadashami, Kuyuili and a few other women set out to the Fort. On Kuyuili’s command, the women poured ghee on her and drenched them in it; Kuyuili fearlessly walked into the armoury chamber and set herself on fire, destroying each weapon that was stored there.
Following Kuyuili’s sacrifice, Velu launched an attack on the Fort with the aim of taking over her Kingdom. Velu not only fought the British but also the Nawab of Arcot, fearlessly and full of valour, and this earned her the title ‘Veeramangai‘ – the brave one.