Table of Contents
The 19th and 20th centuries saw many great men in India who campaigned against the country’s social evils and revolted against the British. Bal Gangadhar Tilak declared that freedom is our birth-right. Brave fighters like Tantya Tope, Rani Laxmi Bai, Dadabhai Naoroji, Khudi Ram Bose, Sri Aurobindo, Lala Lajpat Rai, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nahru, Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh joined the national struggle for freedom. This chapter tells us about three great figures amongst them.
I. Sri Satguru Ram Singh Ji
Sri Satguru Ram Singh of Punjab gave birth to the great Kuka Movement that stood for social reforms and complete independence.
Born on February 3, 1816, in the village Raiyan in district Ludhiana, Guru Balak Singh Ji declared Ram Singh a ‘guru’. From his headquarters at Shri Bhaini Sahib in Ludhiana, the guru started preaching his divine message.
His first sermon was delivered on the Baisakhi Day in 1857. He told people to believe in one God, lead a simple, honest life free, help the poor and the needy, and work for the freedom of the country.
Thousands became his followers. He opposed child marriage, female foeticide, taking of alcoholic drinks and non-vegetarian foods, dowry system, religious fanaticism, cow slaughter and casteism. He encouraged people to live like brothers and fight for the freedom of their country.
Against the British policy of ‘Divide and Rule’, he gave the slogan of ‘Unite and Fight’ to the people of India. He started a movement of non-cooperation against the British rulers and introduced the concept of ‘Be Indian, buy Indian’ in the country.
The Punjabi word ‘Kuka’ stands for a ‘roar’, so Sri Satguru’s followers who raised a loud voice against the British came to be known as ‘Kukas’. The followers of this movement were named Namdharis.
The British rulers let loose a reign of terror against the Kukas. Nine Namdhari Sikhs were sent to the gallows in 1871 and 65 were blown up by cannon fire in an open field in 1872 at Malerkotla.
A twelve-year-old boy named Bishan Singh was offered pardon on the condition that he should deny his allegiance to the Kuka cause. He angrily pounced upon the British officer (Mr. Cowen Deputy Commissioner, Ludhiana) and pulled at his beard. The angry officer cut off both his hands and then beheaded him.
Sri Satguru was arrested and exiled to Burma. His followers continue to flourish today and spread the message of universal brotherhood, national unity, secularism, simple living and high thinking.
II. Rani Laxmi Bai (1834-1858)
Laxmi Bai’s heroic battle against the British has become the subject of many folk songs. She died fighting bravely for the sake of her country. The Rani of Jhansi became the most popular leader of the First War of Independence (1857).
Laxmi Bai was born on 16th November 1834, in Varanasi. Her childhood name was Manikarnika or Manu. After the death of her mother, she came to Bithur with her father where she learnt horse-riding and martial arts.
When she was eight, she was married to Raja Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi. In 1851, she gave birth to a son, but by 1853, both her son and husband had died. She adopted a son under the ‘Policy of Lapse’, but the British Government did not recognize the adopted son and annexed Jhansi in 1853.
On 4th June 1857, the sepoy regiment stationed at Jhansi rebelled. The British forces under the leadership of Sir Hugh Rose besieged Jhansi. The Rani continued to command her forces from inside the fort but was forced to leave Jhansi.
She managed to reach Kalpi where she merged her forces with those of the Nawab of Banda, Tantia Tope. The British forces pursued her at Kalpi and defeated her troops. The Rani was surrounded from all sides, and tried to organize a retreat. While doing so, she was fatally wounded on 18 June 1858. She died on the battlefield.
III. Udham Singh (1899-1940)
Udham Singh was the man who took revenge on General O’Dwyer, the British officer who had ordered the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. Thousands of men, women and children had died in the massacre. Udham Singh killed O’Dwyer in England on 13th March 1940. He was arrested and sentenced to death on 30th July the same year.
He was born on 18th December 1899 at Sunam in Sangrur District of the Punjab. Before sailing for England, he had been sentenced to jail five times during the freedom struggle for various anti-government activities.
In 1937, he reached England after travelling through Europe. In London, he shot General O’Dwyer at a point-blank range in full view of a large gathering. Udham Singh was all for the unity and solidarity of the country.
Sri Satguru Ram Singh Ji, Rani Laxmi Bai and Udham Singh were all great figures who contributed a lot to India’s freedom struggle against the British. They strongly believed in the unity of India, and sacrificed their lives for it. We must continue to honour their contributions and sacrifices that ultimately led us to freedom.