India’s violent freedom struggle: Who appealed for the peasants?

In a world driven by infotainment, the dividing line between what has been written and how they have been interpreted becomes blurred by the day. Although a critical scholar, by no means I claim a post-modern critique of illusory truths. There indeed have been revolutionary struggles for the better and there indeed have been reactionary efforts to suppress them. Avoiding mind contact with the same not just amounts to an intellectual privilege, but also leads to callous indifference.

Let’s then visit the original documents. You may not find them anywhere else on the web. But I am sure my romance with the keyboard to bring back what might have been forgotten in a deliberately fast-paced world of ours, will surely be a small contribution towards the continuing struggles. In understanding that the freedom struggles in India was not as exotic as is often portrayed. That it was a gory revolutionary war on the imperialists, the homegrown reactionary landlords and the alien capitalists. It was violent. Despite pleas from the reformist pacifists, the peasants, farmers and mill workers fought back with every might to rebel against the landowners, privileged classes, and the British imperialists.

The following appeal refers to the trial of a number of Indians who, on 4 February 1922, had taken part in an attack on the Chauri-Chaura police station, in which all except two of the policemen were beaten to death. International appeals came from the leftists all over the world who wanted justice for the condemned peasants. At a time when the reformists withdrew from the mainstream struggles in face of such uprising, which went against their ethos of tolerance, the workers from many parts of the world got united to defend the ones who had openly defied the brutal capitalists.
The following letter was drafted on 14th March, 1923:

Appeal from the ECCI and the RILU to all Workers against Death Sentences passed in India:

Imperialist justice has condemned 172 men in India to death. A year ago 228 men, accused of taking Part in the disturbances which led to the burning of the Chauri-Chaura police station and the murder of twenty-two policemen, were brought before the court. Now 172 men are to be executed in retaliation for the death of 22 policemen who fell in defence of “law and order”. The ferocity of this judicial murder is unsurpassed even in the bloody history of British rule in India.

Since 1919, India has been the scene of mass murders and brutal repression. Beginning in Amritsar, British imperialism has freely made use everywhere of tanks, bombs, machine-guns, and bayonets to smother the rebellious people in streams of blood. More than 30,000 men and women are in prison under various sentences for having taken part in the nationalist movement. More than 6,600 peasants from Malabar are serving hard-labour sentences, 5 have been executed, and 70 hanged. In the Punjab 5,000 Sikh peasants are in prison, beaten and ill-treated there. This outrageous list is now to be extended by sending 172 men to the gallows.

The great majority of the condemned men are poor peasants, driven to revolt by the intolerable burden of war taxes and high prices. The revolt was directed against both the native landlords and the alien government, who together suck the peasants’ blood. It took the form of a gigantic mass demonstration with nationalist slogans and under national leadership. The demonstrations were peaceful, for the leaders of the nationalist movement are petty-bourgeois pacifists who believe in the victory of non-violence. But imperialism would not even allow a peaceful demonstration of the unarmed masses.

The Chauri-Chaura police opened fire on a crowd of about 3,000 who were making their way to a nearby market where they wanted to put up posters against the sale of foreign goods. This provocative act angered the peaceful demonstrators, who attacked the police station, and all the inmates were killed. The number of casualties among the rebels was never established, but it is easy to imagine the effect of fire on a crowd of 3,000 persons. Indignation spread rapidly to neighboring districts and grew into a dangerous agrarian uprising, which was suppressed by rapidly assembled military forces.

Those who demand that the condemned men be set free, call on the Second International and the Amsterdam Trade Union Federation to demand of their chief pillar, the British Labour Party, to save the lives of the 172 Indian peasants, whose only crime was their hunger and who in that state of unbearable hunger because they were forced to contribute too much to the waging of the war “war for democracy”. Call on the Two-and-a-half International to demand of its back-bone, the Independent Labour Party, to give proof of its lofty avowal of pacifism.

Proletarians of Great Britain! It is your duty to take the lead in this affair. Demand that the Labour Party take action in parliament against this bloody deed of British imperialism. If the reformist leaders cannot be moved to action even by so flagrant a violation of every moral and juridical law which they recognize as authoritative for others, you must reject your leaders and take direct action yourselves in support of the right of subject peoples to rebel and in affirmation of the solidarity of the working masses in the fight against capitalism.

[Hence, the condemned men appealed; but 19 death sentences were confirmed, under pressure, 38 were acquitted, and the remainder 115 were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. (India: National Liberation and Class Struggles. by Berch Berberoglu (ed.).1986)]

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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