Chauri Chaura incident
The Chauri Chaura incident took place on 4 February 1922 at Chauri Chaura in the Gorakhpur district of the United Provinces (modern-day Uttar Pradesh) in British India, when a large group of protesters participating in the non-cooperation movement, clashed with police who opened fire. In retaliation the demonstrators attacked and set fire to a police station, killing all of its occupants. The incident led to the death of three civilians and 22 policemen. Mahatma Gandhi, who was strictly against violence, halted the non-cooperation movement on the national level on 12 February 1922, as a direct result of this incident. In spite of Gandhi's decision, 19 arrested demonstrators were sentenced to death and 14 to imprisonment for life by the British colonial authorities.
From 1920 onwards, Indians, led by Mahatma Gandhi, were engaged in a nationwide non-cooperation movement. Using non-violent methods of civil disobedience known as Satyagraha, protests were organised by the Indian National Congress to challenge oppressive government regulatory measures such as the Rowlatt Act, with the ultimate goal of attaining Independence.
Two days before the incident, on 2 February 1922, volunteers participating in the Non-cooperation movement led by a retired soldier of the British Indian Army named Bhagwan Ahir, protested against high food prices and liquor sales at Gauri Bazaar. The demonstrators were beaten back by the local Daroga (Inspector) Gupteshwar Singh and other police officers. Several of the leaders were arrested and put in the lock-up at the Chauri Chaura police station. In response to this, a protest against the police was called on 4 February, to be held at the Bazaar.
On 4 February, approximately 2,000 to 2,500 protesters assembled and began marching towards the market lane at Chauri Chaura. They had gathered to picket the Gauri Bazaar Liquor Shop. Ahir was leading the protest. Armed police were dispatched to control the situation while the protesters marched towards the Bazaar, shouting anti-British slogans. In an attempt to frighten and disperse the crowd, Gupteshwar Singh ordered his 13 local police officers to fire warning shots into the air. This only agitated the crowd who began to throw stones at the police.
With the situation getting out of control, the Sub-Inspector Prithvi Pal ordered the police to open fire on the advancing crowd, killing three and wounding several others. Reports vary on the reason for the police retreat, with some suggesting that the constables ran out of ammunition while others claimed that the crowd's unexpectedly assertive reaction to the gunfire was the cause. In the ensuing chaos, the heavily outnumbered police fell back to the shelter of the police chowki while the angry mob advanced. Infuriated by the gunfire into their ranks, the crowd set the chowki ablaze, killing all of the Indian policemen including Singh and the constables trapped inside.
The following are the names of the policemen that were killed in the incident:
- Inspector Gupteshwar Singh
- Sub-Inspector Prithvi Pal
- Constable Bashir Khan
- Constable Kapil Dev Singh
- Constable Lakhai Singh
- Constable Raghuvir Singh
- Chaukidar Visheshwar Singh
- Constable Mohammed Khan
- Constable Hasan Khan
- Constable Gadabaksh Khan
- Constable Jama Khan
- Chaukidar Manglu Chaubey
- Constable Rambali Pandey
- Constable Kapil Dev
- Constable Indrasan Singh
- Constable Ramlakhan Singh
- Constable Mardana Khan
- Constable Jagdev Singh
- Constable Jaigai Singh
- Chaukidar Wazir
- Chaukidar Ghisai Ram
- Chaukidar Katwaru Ram
One chaukidar (government watchman) named Jathai Ram was thrown into the burning station by the mob but he was able to survive. He had several burn injuries. When the regional Police Commissioner arrived after the incident, he ordered Jathai to be taken to hospital where he later died.
Most victims were burned to death, although several appear to have been killed by the crowd at the entrance to the chowki and their bodies thrown back into the fire. The death count is reported in the literature as either 22 or 23 policemen by different accounts, possibly because of ignoring or counting the subsequent death of Jathai Ram.
In response to the killing of the police, the British colonial authorities declared martial law in and around Chauri Chaura. Several raids were conducted and hundreds of people were arrested.
Appalled at the outrage, Gandhi went on a five-day fast as penance for what he perceived as his culpability in the bloodshed. In reflection, Gandhi felt that he had acted too hastily in encouraging people to revolt against the British colonial government without sufficiently emphasising the importance of ahimsa (non-violence) and without adequately training the people to exercise restraint in the face of attack. He decided that the Indian people were ill-prepared and not yet ready to do what was needed to achieve independence. Gandhi was also arrested and sentenced to six years of imprisonment but was later released in February 1924, on grounds of his ill health.
Nehru and most of the workers of the Congress, who were in prison when Gandhi took this decision, felt that this was a hasty and incorrect decision at a time when the nation was reaching the epoch of support for the Indian independence movement. A few months after this withdrawal, the colonial government arrested Gandhi and put him in jail.
Trial and conviction
A total of 225 people were brought to trial at Gorakhpur Sessions Court of Judge H. E. Holmes, on charges of "rioting and arson" in conjunction with the Chauri Chaura affair. Of these 6 died while in police custody, 2 were sentenced to 2–2 years imprisonment, while 170 were sentenced to death by hanging and 47 were acquitted on 9 January 1923, following conviction in a trial which lasted eight months.
On 30 April 1923, The Allahabad High Court pronounced the final judgement of the case after the appeal of the politicians:
- The (19) people who were sentenced to hanging were –
Nazar Ali, Bhagwan Ahir, Lal Mohammed, Shyamsundar, Abdullah, Dudhi Singh, Kali Charan, Lauti Kumar, Mahadev Singh, Meghu Ali, Raghuvir, Ramlakhan, Ramroop, Sahdev, Rudali, Mohan, Sampat, Shyam Sundar and Sitaram.
- 14 people were sentenced to life imprisonment.
- 19 people were sentenced to 8 years imprisonment.
- 57 people were sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.
- 20 people were sentenced to 3 years imprisonment.
- and finally, 3 people to only 2 years imprisonment.
- Rest 38 people were acquitted.
- The 19 people that were convicted were hanged between 2 & 11 July 1923.
- A memorial to the dead policemen was dedicated by the British colonial authorities in 1923. Following independence the words Jai Hind were added to it, as well as a verse by poet Jagdamba Prasad Mishra which is made famous by revolutionary poet Ram Prasad Bismil. The verse reads: Shaheedon ki chitaaon par lagenge har baras mele ("On the pyres of martyrs, there will be fairs every year").
- The people of the district did not forget the 19 persons tried and executed after the Chauri Chaura incident . In 1971, they formed an association called – Chauri Chaura Shaheed Smarak Samiti. In 1973, this Samiti constructed near the lake at Chauri Chaura a 12.2 meters high triangular minaret on each side of which a figure is depicted hanging with a noose round his neck. The minaret was built at a cost of Rs 13,500 contributed by popular subscription.
- Later another Shaheed Smarak (now the main one) was built by the Government of India to honour those hanged after the incident. This tall memorial has names of those executed engraved upon it. A library & museum related to the independence struggle has been set up near the memorial.
- Indian Railways have named a train to honour those executed after the Chauri Chaura incident. The train is named Chauri Chaura Express, which runs from Gorakhpur to Kanpur.
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