India's Independence Day, that is. Yes, it was on this day in 66 years ago, that India finally broke off from Britain and became an independent nation.
So, in the spirit of this day, I thought I'd write a little bit about the lesser known figures behind India's independence. Not about Nehru and Gandhi, who are both well known out in the West, but about people like Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose, and why they were important.
Coming from a family of revolutionaries, patriotism was in Bhagat Singh's blood. He initially was a follower of Gandhi, but later became disillusioned with his ways and went down his own path. Among his activities, he was responsible for killing Officer Saunders, as an act of revenge for the death of an elder Indian political leader (Lala Rajpat Rai) at the hands of the British police. He is most well known for throwing bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly (no one was hurt in the explosions... by design) and purposely turning himself over to the police to get his voice heard by the Indian people. He, along with his compatriots Sukhdev and Rajguru, were executed when Bhagat was only 23. Less known about Bhagat Singh is that he was a vocal atheist and communist.
Why is he important: He gave a voice to the young revolutionaries who weren't happy with "Dominion Status" (as proposed by Gandhi), which would give India half-rule, and instead inspired the purn swaraj movement - for total independence.
Netaji Subas Chandra Bose
A more controversial figure, Bose was in direct opposition to Gandhi and tried to gain independence by force, instead of by non-violence. To weaken the British soldiers who controlled India, he led Indian soldiers to fight alongside the Japanese against the British during World War II. He eventually made it to India, establishing a provisional government along the way, but was forced to retreat with the weakening fortunes of the Japanese army. He is alleged to have died in a plane crash a mere three days after the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, but there is little certainty around his actual death.
Why is he important: The establishment of the Azad Hind Fauj (the Independent India Army) was a turning point for the British, when they realized they no longer could rely on Indian forces to control the Indian population.
He fired the first shot against the British, that marked the beginning of India's First War of Independence (also referred to as the "Sepoy Rebellion"). Mangal Pandey was a sepoy in the Indian military when the British rolled out new cartridges that required biting to open the shell. The cartridges were dipped in the fat of cow, which is sacred for Hindus, and pig, which is forbidden for Muslims. This planted the seeds of discontent in the Sepoys and this first shot led to open rebellion.
Why is he important: Pandey is the figurehead for an important moment in India's movement for independence. The Rebellion of 1857 led to Indian forces taking back Delhi, Lucknow, Jhansi, and parts of Punjab, among other territories. The British eventually took back over in 1858, but things would never be the same.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
The "Ironman" of India, he was essential in the movement for independence. But he is perhaps more well-known for what he did post-independence. He voluntarily ceded the Prime Minister position to Nehru and served as Deputy Prime Minister. His prominent accomplishments include nationally integrating post-independent India and establishing refugee camps for the massive amounts of refugees coming from West and East Pakistan
Jallianwala Bagh was one of the most well-known and darkest chapters of British rule of India. Because the British Raj was worried about revolutionary activities, large public gatherings were banned. On April 13, 1919, Michael O'Dwyer, governor of Punjab, ordered troops into Jallianwala Bagh, where 20,000 unarmed citizens were gathered, and opened fire on the crowd. Official estimates state that 379 were killed, but in reality, the number was above 1,000.
Udham Singh was present on that day, serving water to others. After witnessing this atrocity, Udham Singh vowed to take revenge. After years of revolutionary activities and speeches that took him around the world, even to the US, Singh finally got his chance on March 13th, 1940, when O'Dwyer was speaking at Caxton Hall. Singh snuck a pistol inside a book into Caxton Hall and when the opportunity presented himself, stood up and fired on O'Dwyer, killing him on the spot.
But don't take my word for it. Here is a re-enactment of this famous scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keJ9s41v5tU&t=145m28s
Why is he important: To the British, this may have been a mere blip. But to Indians, it brought a sense of closure for this dark event.
Happy Indian Independence Day!