Remembering Shaheed Ram Prasad ‘Bismil’ Tomar

Ninety-five years ago, the colonial British government executed Ram Prasad ‘Bismil’, Thakur Roshan Singh, and Ashfaqullah Khan for their anti-colonial activities. Their involvement in the Kakori Train Robbery and subsequent martyrdom etched their names in the collective memory of Indians. Their selfless acts became an inspiration for millions and a catalyst for increased British repression. Notably, all were members of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA).

December 19, 2022, marked the 95th death anniversary of Ram Prasad Bismil. Thus, it behooves us to revisit the moorings that shaped his socialist leanings, highlighted by Bismil in his autobiography ‘Musings from the Gallows’.

Conventional narratives about ‘Pandit’ Ram Prasad ‘Bismil’ emphasize his Arya Samaji and socialist beliefs and as of late, Bismil’s image has also been utilised for the furtherance of exclusionary, religion-based politics. Both his Arya Samaji and socialist beliefs were integral to his zeal for Indian independence and shaped him deeply. However, there are fundamental omissions that cause writers to paint an incomplete picture and inhibit us from understanding the great freedom fighter and his role in history.

Bismil was born in Saharanpur in a farming Tomar Rajput family that originated from Morena district in Chambal – an area once known as Tomargarh and once dominated by Bismil’s forefathers and ruled by monarchs like Raja Man Singh Tomar. It was only due to his later involvement with the Arya Samaj and his knowledge of religious texts that he began to be addressed as ‘Pandit’ by his colleagues. However, whether it was the INA soldiers or Ram Prasad Bismil, India’s freedom fighters have gone unsung and many of their families continue to struggle in the nation their ancestors freed with their sacrifices. This was attested to in an article in The Hindu where Bismil’s nephew Bijendra Singh Tomar, son of Bismil’s brother, was interviewed about the economic hardships faced by the family.

Nevertheless, the family had deep ties to Chambal and its spirit of rebellion. Coming from a farming family from an area like Chambal which was famous for its rebellious bandits, founding a militant socialist organization grounded in secular yet religious beliefs was a natural occurrence – a fact that would perplex those who juxtapose religion and politics today due to their modern lens and contemporary political realities. By misidentifying heroes like Bismil and detaching him and his colleagues from their family backgrounds and regional cultures, historians do a disservice to them and limit peoples’ ability to recognise the true breadth of their influence in modern politics. Detaching Bismil from Chambal background makes it difficult to historicize the rise of socialism in that part of India and paints an incomplete picture of farmers’ movements in the country. Chambal also marked the rise of another great Socialist leader like Commander Arjun Singh Bhadoriya, the founder of Lal Sena.

The HSRA provides us with an important model that was founded by religious, yet secular people, and drew upon people from a broad range of classes and castes without impelling them to renege them. It is necessary to assert that Hindu members of the organization cannot be hijacked by right-wing groups for their parochial worldviews (mislabelling Bismil as a Brahmin is part of this insidious trend), but it is equally valid to assert that the contemporary Left that seeks to dismantle all forms of social identity cannot lay claims to their legacy either. The HSRA was closer to the idea of secular India than those who occupy the Left and the Right of today’s polarized political stage.

It was not uncommon to find religious motivations among India’s freedom fighters. Many were staunch followers of their faiths, and their beliefs shaped their actions. What is remarkable about Bismil and others like Thakur Roshan Singh Katehariya is that their religious backgrounds were conducive to socialism and secularism. The HSRA should be seen as an early predecessor of socialist ideology in Uttar Pradesh – an ideology brought to the fore by stalwarts like VP Singh and Chandra Shekhar in modern India. Unfortunately, the Left has made religious sentiments irreconcilable with socialist leanings, pushing many people out and leaving them with little political options. The Left should learn from HSRA and adopt a more inclusive approach that doesn’t vilify religious beliefs and equate it with fundamentalism or right-wing nationalism.

क्षत्रिय सामाजिक, राजनीतिक और धार्मिक चेतना मंच।

Jai Ramdev ji | Jai Tejaji |JaiGogaji |Jai Jambho ji| Jai Dulla Bhati | Jai Banda Bahadur |

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