Monday, November 12, 2012

Harnam Sing - The Fedayeen

I always held this belief that a nation cannot be built without heroes. To become a human, it is not enough just to have skills and knowledge, but also honor and values. Our politicians are not a special breed of people; they are just a part of our society. They are corrupt because we are all corrupt. We cannot get rid of corruption in our society unless to teach our children honesty, self respect and hard work and self confidence. One way to do this is to put forward the examples of our heroes, who have scarified their life to protect the honor of their country. Here is the first installment of what I want to make a series of stories that tells how our heroes have loved their motherland and sacrificed their lives. I desperately hope that after reading this, a child will get some deterrence from growing up a corrupt, devoid of any honor. Let’s hope.

Below is the story of Harnam Sing, an illiterate village boy. He felt the humiliation of subjugation by foreign rulers that he was willing to lay down his life to rid the country of foreign rule. He knew full well they he will not be able to bring down the mighty British Empire. But for some people, honor matters more than the results. Let’s celebrate the death of these martyrs. Not for them. They are dead. They don’t care what we do, but for our children; So that they can grow up in a better India.

(Translated from an article by Ronjan Roy in Shuktara 1971 edition)
Ghadar leader Visnu Ganesh Pingle has returned from America. He told the Indian revolutionaries that Indian freedom has to be owned from Indian soil. Ghadar party workers are coming back to India en masse. Any ship coming from San Francisco via the Pacific or from Quebec via the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, is bringing back at least two dozen of Punjabi revolutionaries, who are determined to give up their lives for the emancipation of their motherland. They don’t dare to come in larger number in the same ship. They have not forgotten the incident of Komagata Maru, how the British brutalized the Indians on that ship. They are certain that if the British even suspect that any ship is carrying a large number of Indian revolutionaries, they will do the same thing again.
Pingle advices that money needs to be collected from India, Indian youth have to be transformed to an army by military training. Germany has promised arms supplies. But getting arms from there is complicated. Until that happens should we stay idle? Of course not. There is a lot of arms right here in India. We have to snatch them from the British.
“But how?” Asks Harnam Singh.
“By force” Pingle replies, “By robbery. We must raid such places where we will get bread and meat together. That means money and weapon. For example Government treasury, where you will get money of course, but also get guns from the guards, or banks or the collection offices of the landlords.”
“I don’t know about money”, said Harnam Sing, “But I can tell you how we can get five or six rifles easily from the Valla Bridge. There are five or six armed guards there. Each carries a rifle and a bag of ammunition on their belt.”
This Harnam is a fire eating lad. He entered the services of a Circus company at a very young age. His job was to clean the animal cages. Each cage has two parts with a partition of a spring iron door. The animal is restrained in one part, while the other gets cleaned. Then the door is opened and the animal is goaded to the clean part of the cage. Then the door is closed again. By that time the cleaner is safely out of the cage. Then he jumps to the other part and quickly cleans away. One day a terrible thing happened. The middle door is spring operated. That day the door malfunctioned. Harnam saw the door is coming down and he also jumped down. It should not take more than a second for the door to close. But when he jumped to the floor of the cage, he was dumbstruck! The door is only half closed and is not closing anymore. The spring gave up.
And the animal on the other side – a freshly captured Royal Bengal Tiger! Not tamed yet. The circus trainer is very doubtful it will ever be tamed. The owner will feel lucky if it can ever be used for a show. The royal Bengal Tiger is crouching on the other side, wagging her tail from left to right, as if to the tune of music unheard by the others. On the other side of the cage is Harnam, with broom in his right hand a three feet long iron spear in his left hand. This weapon is given to the cleaners for eventual emergencies. Harnam is in one side of the cage and the tiger is in the other. The door in between is open. The guard who minds the gate is shouting like crazy, to scare the tiger and to get help. But a freshly captured Royal Bengal Tiger does not heed to shouts. She jumped, one yellow lightning crossed over to the other end of the cage. She landed exactly the same spot where the lad Harnam was standing a moment ago. But he is not there any longer! The tigress jumped like a lightning and Harnam jumped like a bolt and stroke the tiger with his spear. The tiger landed a foot ahead. And Harnam – Did he see the Tarzan movies? How else did he learn these tricks? He jumped on the tiger and straddled her. He held her two ears back forcefully. The spear has penetrated deep on her shoulder. The whole circus area is reverberating with her roar. Help has come by now. The tigress is trying her best to release her ears from Harnam and bite his leg. Had the spear not stuck on her shoulder, she would have lied on her back to dismount her raider. From four sides of the cage they are trying to char the tiger on its paws and on the belly. They cannot afford to disfigure her body. A circus animal must not look ugly. While the tigress is busy defending herself, Harnam jumped up and got hold of the roof of the cage. The roof also had a bolted door. They rescued him opening the door. After this, the tigress became tame and the chief trainer Allahbox took Harnam as a trainee. But Harnam did not stay in that job for long.
“Why are you quitting?” Asked the proprietor.
“There are more dangerous animals outside; the two legged whites.” quipped Harnam, “Now I will deal with them.”
The same Harnam Sing was entrusted to lead the raid on Valla Bridge. Only six miles from Amritsar, this is a bridge on a midsize canal. Around a hundred trains cross this bridge every day. There was one guard on each end of the bridge earlier. After the start of the insurgency, the guard has been increased. Now two men guard each end of the bridge and there are two mobile guards doing rounds across the length of the bridge. Only six riflemen. To engage them, Harnam employeed for dare devils. They are Channal Sing, Kala Sing, Amta Sing and Banta Sing. “Why don’t you take a few more?” Someone asked. “Why?” retorted Harnam. “We will raid in the middle of the night. Before they realize, we will finish two of them. After that they are four and so are we”. One of us will be on the watch. Railway bridge, there is no dealings of money here. The only attractions are the six rifles with the guards and their ammunitions. But weapons are so precious with the revolutionaries these days that they are willing to give up six lives for six rifles. At morning 4 AM one train will cross the bridge. The raiders will hide behind the train. On the north end of the bridge, habilder Chitra Sing and private Phool Sing are on watch. As soon as the train left the sentry post, they were greeted with rifle fire. Before they could grasp the situation, they were wounded. The wounds were not serious. They grasped their rifle and started shouting for their comrades. They were looking around because they could not spot their attackers. When they did, they could not resist. Four kukris snuffed their lives out. But the raiders could not risk leaving them behind alive. Because if they regained strength, they would fire upon the revolutionaries. So they kept stabbing them and finally fired upon them to make sure they are down. The guards on the other end did not hear the sound of fire immediately. The roaring sound of the train masked the sound of the bullets. But finally they heard and realized. But they did not flee. But rather came rushing to help their comrades. They fired while they ran. But they could not aim at the raiders. But Harnam’s mates were firing standing. They killed all four of them easily. Six guards were killed and six rifles acquired. But the revolutionaries refused to see this as murder. From their perspective this was required. The dead are also the son of the soil. Harnam considered them as six dead brothers. But without their death, the revolution could not gain six rifles. India has a lot of people, but alas, very few rifles. By the inevitable rule of supply and demand, a rifle is in more demand than a life! With their booty of rifles on their back, the revolutionaries got off the bridge. The day is clearing up. Another train is coming. There is no time to lose. They were going towards Palasour along the fields. They cannot risk going to Amritsar directly. They were carrying two rifles each and had blood strains on their clothes. They intended to cross Kaleng River near Palasour and hide in the nearby forest. They wanted to reach Amritsar in the cover of the night. The sun came out and with it a few villagers. They are looking at the pary with suspicion. Each carrying two rifles, Harman carrying three! On top of arousing suspicion, the load is becoming unbearable on them. But it seems there is a solution. A rider comes along with a blanket on the saddle. This was a golden opportunity. They can carry their rifles on horseback covered with the blanket. The rider was galloping along but stopped suddenly. He smelled danger seeing four stout riflemen carrying double rifles. Gulab Sign suspected they were robbers. They came to know later that his name was Gulab Sing. Gulab Sing is fleeing. He cannot be allowed to escape. He will reach the village well before Harnams party and alert the villagers and the police. The whole village will be ready for the raiders with whatever implants they have. Only the Guru knows how many innocent lives will be lost in self defense. Dejected, Harnam raised his rifle and fired. Gulab Sing’s body fell down from his horse. Now five rebels stacked their rifles on horseback and covered them with blanket and continued their journey. At midday they reached Kaleng River. If they can cross the river, they can take refuge in the forest. But the boatman is a stubborn suspicious man. He will not let five men with blood stains on their clothes and their horse on his boat. Meanwhile he could hear uproar behind. Villagers have discovered Gulab Sings dead body and organized a search party. So they had to kill the boat man also. They boarded the boat and started for the other bank. But the villagers have arrived on this side. The land lord’s son had a gun. He started firing towards the boat. So Harnams party was forced to fire upon them. Two of the villagers were injured and then they dispersed. They were relieved after entering the forest. The villagers cannot pursue them here. But they cannot rest there indefinitely. They have left blood trail behind. The police will follow their trail and apprehend them. All the police stations around are already being alerted. So they started their journey again. Not towards Amritsar but in the opposite direction, towards Kapurthala. They hoped that they may be able to hide in the native state. But their hopes were dashed. Kapurthala was already alerted. They were arrested as soon as they entered Kapurthala.
They were hanged on 9th August 1915.

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