Learning shared cultural values from history during the holy month of Ramzan

Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali

The holy festivities of Ramzan have started from today. Greetings to all friends and wishing them good health and wonderful time with their near dear ones. These are precious moments and we hope that people will be at peace with them. The festivities and the fasting give enough time for all of us to strengthen our mental and spiritual needs. At the moment when the world is fighting not merely with the biggest assault from Corona, authoritarian regimes world over are using the fear mongering and strengthening their control over people through not merely by their ‘laws’ but more through surveillance and policing. So digitalisation might be a great idea but at the same point of time, it has become the biggest tool in the hands of the power to exploit and violate the privacy of the people since most of these apps and tools can easily go to third party, which are mostly private parties or cronies of the power.

The world is fighting not merely against Corona but also against hatred and prejudice.

Those societies which were already theocratic are actually trying to emerge out of that as they have seen the worst in their ‘theocracies’ which never helped people. Theocracies happened in the name of one religion and converted that majoritarian religion a state religion. Every one of us know that religion is merely a tool to suppress people and control power and resources. The democracies which might not have been ‘perfect’ yet were proud of the rich multi-cultural legacy and I am not using the term ‘secular’ because we never really had that. We were a multicultural society and were proud of it but now these societies want to follow the ‘theocratic’ one and feel as if the biggest obstacle in their becoming a ‘world power’ are the ‘minorities’. That everything that is multicultural and celebrate our plurality become a challenge for them. Even at the time of Corona, the hate mongers dont leave their hatred. They continue to spit venom and have become worst than the poisonous reptiles.

And amidst this crisis is a threat to peace as many mavericks are still planning to do so.

Thousands of people particulrly children suffer in Yemen, the agonies and pains of people are visible in Syria facing bombs from the above, all in the name of bringing ‘peace’, in the Palestinian territory and elsewhere and we need to endorse the call given by the UN Secretary General for a complete moratorium on war at least till this fight against Corona is taken to a logical conclusion. Can the world really afford a war at the moment ?

In India today we must shed our hatred and remember a glorious chapter of history when the British power tried to divide people, the Hindus and the Muslims. Two days back, few people remember was a anniversary of a massacre on April 23rd, 1930 at ‘Kissa Khwani Bazar’ in Peshawar now in Pakistan, unleashed by the British on the peaceful protesters of Khudai Khidmatgars who were protesting against the arrest of their leader Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, proudly remembered in India as ‘ Frontier Gandhi’ and Badshah Khan or Becca Khan. More than 400 unarmed protesters were killed by the brutal British ‘ Disturbance Column’. Why has this massacre not remembered ? Why am I speaking about it at this point of time ? We remember Jalianwallah Bagh but not many know about it but it is important for all of us to remember this brutal massacre but also a shining part of it played by the brave Garhwal Rifles who were deputed to handle this cases earlier.

At this Kissa Khwani Bazar, the British had already decided to ‘teach’ the Pathans a lesson as they were with Gandhi and resorted to peaceful protests so you can understand when the power want to kill people, it will find a way and a pretense even to disturb a peaceful protest. The British had carefully brought Royal Garhwal Rifles platoon to the city of Peshawar so that the fellow Garhwalis will ‘obey’ the order of the ‘high command’ but their strategy failed. A Havildar of the platoon named as Chandra Singh Garhwali had already ‘educated’ his team not to fire at the agitating khudai khidmatgar as they are ‘our own’ and British are trying to divide. When the platoon was being asked to surround and fire they disobeyed and refused to fire. Brave Chandra Singh and his fellow soldiers were arrested and the platoon was withdrawn. The charge was now handed over to other ‘loyal’ column.

Chandra Singh Garhwali was sentence to life imprisonment. He was sent to ‘Kala Pani’ as we would be told. I had the fortunate to having seen him in the child hood in Kotdwara where he used to live. His lived an extraordinary life, always spoke for people’s rights but was never treated fairly. For years, he was not even termed as ‘freedom fighters’. According to law, they were still treated as ‘criminals’. The government even did not provide him proper pension. For getting a pension, you needed a ‘khadi’ though Chandra Singh was definitely influenced by Arya Samaj and Gandhi’s non violence yet he was very radical on the issues such as land reforms and issues of Dalits.

I was just wondering how a man who hailed from the nondescript village and did not have any ‘college’ education, could defy the British High command i e. army order and that too far away from his own home land, he never knew those people, not even the culture but he only knew that the ‘Pathans’ were Indians and we have to protect them and not kill them. I was wondering what has happened today. This an who did not go to St Stephens or Oxford University, perhaps not even to a local inter college, had that wide vision that he defied the military command and educated his fellow soldiers the dangers that the British were playing with us by dividing us and creating hatred. At least, the English speaking ‘educated’ can take a few lessons from the life of this man called Chandra Singh Garhwali.

We blame the politicians for all the evils but the people too need to take the blame. You elect the leaders you deserve. Chandra Singh was never honored during his life time. He suffered at the hands of powerful politicians of Uttar Pradesh like Govind Ballabh Pant who never acknowledged his contribution. The people never voted him. They only wanted to remember him as ‘Nayak of Peshawar kand’ i.e The hero of Peshawar but if they really remember him, why they forgot the date and the issue. If they really want to honor him then they must work for India’s unity that all those who are not Hindus too are our brothers and sisters.

At the month of Ramzan, I proudly remember legendary Chandra Singh Garhwali who should have been our ‘Bharat Ratna’ but then it seems those who were not part of our ‘history’ books, seems to have done nothing. It is time, we remember these legacies to strengthen our history and its common struggle. We might have difference but we have a shared history, a common culture and the courageous defiance by Garhwal Rifles led by Chandra Singh should become a glorious chapter of this shared heritage which we must preserve and celebrate.

Ramzan mubarak to all.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
April 25th, 2020

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