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Men who took pride in being Hindus and terrorists

Walter Rand’s elegant, horse-drawn carriage pulled out of Government House around midnight, where Poona’s élite had been celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and headed, military escort trotting alongside, down what’s now Senapati Bapat Marg. His assassins were waiting for him: men who were proud Hindus, and terrorists.

 Men who took pride in being Hindus and terrorists

Chapekar brothers Damodar, Balakrishna and Vasudev (clockwise from left) assassinated British officer Walter Rand in 1897.

In 1897, the Chapekar brothers — Damodar, Balkrishna and Vasudev — carried out the first act of terrorism recorded in India. Rand’s efforts to stamp out plague in the city had included public strip searches — outraging conservative Hindu opinion.

“He had made himself an enemy of our religion”, a confessional statement to police reads.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said that Hindus have never been terrorists, but many who participated in the freedom movement would have disagreed.

From 1906 to 1917, colonial records document 210 “revolutionary outrages”, as well as another 101 attempted acts, involving some 1,000 terrorists in Bengal alone. There were another 189 incidents from 1930 to 1934 — claiming the lives of nine British officials, including an Inspector-General of Police.

Early in the last century, Aurobindo Ghose and his lieutenant, Jatindranath Banerji, began popularising the idea of a violent revolution against the British. But, with a population disarmed by law, insurgency was impossible, making targeted terrorism the only viable option.

The ideological currents the revolutionary terrorists tapped were diverse: Marxism, anarchism, Irish nationalism.

For many, though, the creation of a masculine Hindu nationalism was key to this process. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who went on to lead the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, set up Abhinav Bharat in May, 1904, to begin this project.

In one manifesto, Savarkar organisation, Abhinav Bharat’s followers promised to “shed upon the earth the life-blood of the enemies who destroy religion.”  Later, the radical right journal Yugantar argued that the murder of foreigners in India was “not a sin but a yagna”.

In some revolutionary literature, Islam was seen as having sapped Hinduism of its energy, enabling British colonialism.

Edinburgh-educated Pandurang Bapat played a key role in providing India’s terrorists the technology they needed . In 1908, Bapat is believed to have been given a manual for bomb-making by a Russian chemical engineer.

Bapat insisted that his bombs never killed anyone. He was, however, suspected of involvement in the Alipore bomb case — an attack on a British magistrate by Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki which missed its target, and killed two women.

“More often than not,” scholar Walter Lacquer has recorded, “the Indian terrorists managed to kill some innocent bystander rather than their intended targets”.

That wasn’t always true: in 1930, revolutionaries raided the Chittagong armoury, losing 19 of their own but seizing arms, and destroying rail and communications lines.

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Updated Date: Apr 05, 2019 13:52:30 IST

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