The parasitic British managed to establish their control by the late 1800s and brought in a slew of draconian measures designed to fill their coffers while tormenting the true and rightful owners of the lands and riches of Akhanda Bharat. A fateful pandemic of plague swept the nation in 1896 – 97, particularly the state of Maharashtra.
The British with their outwardly superior air were in reality clueless about how to handle the pandemic, its cause and cure. As the bodies piled up, Special Plague Officer Charles Walter Rand and Surgeon Captain W.W. Beveridge were dispatched to Poona in February 1897 as part of a Special Plague Committee. Their objective was to contain the disease using any means at their disposal.
Though cautionary words of ‘work with the people’ were uttered by the governor of Bombay, Lord Sandhurst, Rand was in a desperate hurry to eradicate the plague owing to economic implications. Several European countries had stopped purchasing goods from British controlled India out of fear.
The Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 was passed that allowed authorities to take “drastic” steps to contain the outbreak. The British in their usual tyrannical manner decided to post officers and men of British and Indian origin on plague duty instead of doctors and nurses. They also made it mandatory for the head of every house and family to report any case of outbreak of plague or death caused by it in their family to the committee.
However, Rand and his men went on a rampage and searched each and every house, ill-treating the elderly, molesting women and children and even desecrating places of worship. The victims of plague were forced to leave their homes overnight and live in isolation camps set up outside the town limits.
Those who needed treatment, rest and recuperation were literally chased out of their houses with their possessions either destroyed or burnt. No one was allowed to either cremate or bury their loved ones without permission.
Deep hatred and resentment that had been simmering for some time over the inhuman conduct of the British soldiers bubbled over.
The Chapekar brothers – Damodar, Balakrishna and Vasudev were protesting against the crude repressive measures implemented by Rand and his soldiers. The young nationalists found their inspiration in the greatest king to have ruled Akhanda Bharat namely Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
They wished that the Indian National Congress (essentially a mouthpiece of the British) would stop talking and work zealously like Maharaj to liberate their motherland from the oppressive colonial rule. The brothers, like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Shrimant Peshwa Baji Rao I and Shrimant Peshwa Madhavrao Bhat I believed that the English were not as “fair-minded” and “tolerant” as they had portrayed themselves and their ambitions went beyond just “trade ties”.
If anything, the British were quite the opposite. The English education was quickly diluting traditional beliefs, age-old culture, ethical and religious values and overall encouraging moral degradation of Indians. They were constantly interfering in religious customs of the Hindus and festivities on auspicious occasions.
Finally, fed up with the British and their increasing tyranny, the Chapekars plotted a political assassination. On 22 June 1897, the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria was being celebrated in Poona. Damodar and Balakrishna armed themselves with a pistol each, selected a spot near Ganeshkhind Road and waited in the dark.
Soon, an official carriage returning from the Government House after the celebrations turned round the corner. Exchanging their code words, ‘Gondya aala re aala’ meaning our target has come, Balakrishna jumped into the carriage and shot the occupant at point-blank range. He realised that it was not the intended target Rand but Ayerst.
As the road was covered in a blanket of darkness, the coachman of Rand’s carriage that was just behind did not see what had happened. Balakrishna signalled to Damodar to take his position and the latter leapt into Rand’s carriage and shot him in the head from the back.
Both the brothers made their escape in the dark. Rand was rushed to the hospital and succumbed to his injuries on 3 July 1897. Ayerst died instantly. The British were outraged and announced a hefty sum of Rs 20,000 for information about the assassins. The Dravid brothers, former associates of the Chapekars sang like a canary resulting in the arrest of the Chapekars.
Damodar’s confession recorded on 8 October 1897 runs thus, “I went to Poona. The operations for the suppression of the plague were commenced. In search of houses, a great zulum (atrocity) was practised by the soldiers. (They) entered the temples and brought out women from their houses, broke idols and burnt Pothis (holy books), we determined to revenge these actions but it was of no use to kill common people, it was necessary to kill the chief man. Therefore, we determined to kill Mr Rand who was the chief.”
Though Balakrishna managed to escape, the Dravid brothers passed on information to the British and he was intercepted while fleeing. Vasudev along with Mahadev Vinayak Ranade and Khando Vishnu Sathe murdered the Dravid brothers near their house in Sadashiv Peth on 8 February 1899.
Damodar was hanged on 18 April 1898, Vasudev, Balakrishna and Ranade were executed on 8 May 1899, 10 May 1899 and 12 May 1899 respectively.
The execution of the Chapekar brothers who fought against the invaders created panic among the British ranks and reignited the spark of revolution.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about Nathuram Vinayak Godse is taken from archives