By Kartik Lokhande :
A century ago, they fell to bullets in fight against liquor shops
SAKHARAM Darba, Harba, Hiraji Mahadeo Bomble, Fakira, Bapu Madho, Bajya, Bapunya Maroti Tembe, Raja Ganesh, Harishchandra... These names do not strike a chord with the present-day generation of Nagpurians. In fact, even the Internet-savvy generation may not find any reference to these names. These names are of the heroes of India’s freedom struggle who died in firing by the police in British Raj, 100 years ago, during the course of agitation referred to as ‘picketing of liquor shops’. These are inscribed on the marble memorial installed in the middle of cement replica of Lotus flower, in the centre of the road.
The location? Golibar Chowk. Following the call of Mahatma Gandhi, freedom fighters across the country and in Nagpur launched a massive campaign against sale of liquor. For the British Government, it was not palatable. Because, as it is now in Independent India, liquor sale was one of the biggest sources of revenue for the Government. Importantly, as the historic documents about the Central Provinces and Berar reveal, this campaign involved weavers’ communities of Koshtis and Momins in Nagpur. In February 1921, Koshtis and Momins were drawn into the agitation against sale of liquor. Food was in short supply then and the prices were high. Dr L V Paranjpe, a medical practitioner and a trusted aide of Dr B S Moonje, launched boycott of liquor shops and students picketed the liquor shops. By the end of February, the agitation intensified to the extent that the British were alarmed. The British Government had asked police to open fire earlier in January in which 10 agitators were killed. On February 22, 1921, the then Government arrested Dr M R Cholkar, Vice-President of Municipal Committee of Nagpur, on charge of sedition.
As per the thesis of Australian researcher D E U Baker’s work ‘Politics in a Bilingual Province: The Central Provinces and Berar, India, 1919-1939’, “The Government also arrested two Muslim volunteers for allegedly causing violence at a liquor shop and went ahead with its plan to hold the liquor auctions.” Baker quoted from the National Archives of India records and stated that Dr Cholkar’s arrest along with arrest of the two volunteers, drew a large crowd to the court the next day where the picketers were to be tried and the auction sales of the shops were to be held. “The crowd is reported to have laid violent hands upon some contractors who had bid at the auction sales; (an) attempt to disperse by the reserve police seems to have provoked the mob to violence. Policemen were assaulted and some Europeans passing in a motor were attacked... In the city some shops were looted in the evening and some liquor houses were demolished,” state the records of the time. Following this intense agitation, the Government of the time called out soldiers and prohibited all the meetings for one month.
However, on March 24, 1921, another flash point emerged. The leaders held a meeting and appealed to the people to carry on non-cooperation movement irrespective of arrests. Tension rose again and three days later, on March 27, a mob of 400 Koshti community members and others armed with stones and sticks looted liquor shops in the city. The police went to Koshtipura and arrested 30 suspects. As per the book ‘Nagpur Nagar Evam Swatantrata Andolan’ by Dr Nandkishore Bachchraj Vyas, the next day, a British magistrate accompanied by 25 armed and 15 plainclothes policemen went to Koshtipura again to round up some more ‘suspects’ who had escaped in the preceding night. However, irked people of the locality attacked the magistrate and cops. As people were agitated, the warnings of firing did not have any impact. The magistrate then ordered the cops to open fire. In this firing, at least three people were killed on the spot and two sustained serious injuries. The crowd dispersed. Later on, these two injured were admitted to Mayo Hospital. Some other injured persons were admitted to private hospitals. Quoting ‘press communiqué’ issued by the then Chief Secretary, Dr Vyas states in his book that at least eight people were killed in the firing. According to Baker, who has cited the reports published in ‘The Hitavada’ and ‘Bombay Chronicle’, the firing killed nine persons and left 14 seriously wounded.
“This caused considerable excitement, and, fearing further retaliation, the police vacated control posts in the inner part of the city. With the removal of the police, the mob went berserk, burning four of their posts and assaulting individual policemen in different parts of Nagpur. By 30 March all was quiet again, and when an armed patrol marched through the city to re-establish the police posts, it met no opposition. The following day, the government prohibited public meetings in Nagpur for two months within a radius of 10 miles from the city. And with that order, the agitation ceased,” Baker stated. According to Dr Vyas’ book, an enquiry committee was appointed to probe the entire episode of picketing of liquor shops and firing. Interestingly, it was announced to start the enquiry at 11 am on April 18 at Victoria Technical Institute (today, the building of College of Agriculture in Maharajbagh). “In the second week of May, the committee’s conclusions were published. As per the excerpts published in ‘The Hitavada’, the committee justified the firing.
This, indeed, must have added insult to the injury sustained by the people,” writes Dr Vyas. However, when one switches to the present-day, the ‘Goli Kaand’ of 1921 has faded from public memory. Even if someone asks about the history of ‘Golibar Chowk’, only a handful few may be able to give correct account. In the area where Golibar Chowk memorial exists today, many believe that the names inscribed on the marble bars are of martyrs of ‘Quit India’ movement of 1942. But, they are unable to provide any reference to any historic document. Nagpur is fast emerging as a big ‘smart’ city. However, as it is moving ahead with time the city is finding it convenient to forget the chapters in history when it was ‘a crucible’ of freedom struggle of India. One such chapter was written a 100 years ago -- in 1921. Not many would remember that chapter. For, even the third/fourth generation residents of the area where it all happened then, feel that ‘that particular incident’ took place in 1942 and not in 1921. After digging through historic records, ‘The Hitavada’ got some details of the said incident, the memory of which has lived on in the form of what is known today as ‘Golibar Chowk’. One can get an official brief account in the Union Ministry of Culture’s compilation titled ‘Dictionary of Martyrs of India’s Freedom Struggle (1857-1947)’. The Volume-3 of the dictionary has names of martyrs from Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Sind.
Though there may be slight difference between the spellings of names mentioned in the said dictionary and those inscribed on Golibar Chowk memorial, one can easily find common details about these martyrs killed in police firing. The names in the dictionary are as follows: Baja Ganesh Koshti, Bajya, Bapu Bahya Mali, Bapunja Maruti Tambe, Fakira, Haraba, Harish Chandra, Hiraji Mahadeo Bimble, and Sakharam Dasba Gadiwal. And, the names inscribed on the marble bars at Golibar Chowk memorial are as follows: Sakharam Darba, Harba, Hiraji Mahadeo Bomble, Fakira, Bapu Madho, Bajya, Bapunya Maroti Tembe, Raja Ganesh, and Harishchandra. The dictionary of martyrs has common description of how each of these people attained martyrdom. It reads, “He took active part in the Non-Cooperation movement in 1921. He joined various gatherings for picketing the liquor shops in Nagpur City. He, along with few other demonstrators, was killed in the police firing on a public march organised to protest against the British mis-rule...” Given these records, there may be marginal difference in names (probably because of the fact that spellings were based on pronunciations of the time), and even date, but there is agreement that the incident indeed took place in the year 1921, that is, 100 years ago! Unless some more evidence in the form of historical documents of the time come to fore in future, the available accounts must be treated true. Unfortunately, though there exists a memorial, no attempt has been made over the years to make the history of this landmark known to Nagpurians of today.
The visitors can at best get the names of martyrs, but not the details about the incident in which they made the supreme sacrifice. There is no mention of the date and year of the incident, leave alone other details. Also, there is another social issue involved. If these nine people fell to the British bullets during the agitation against sale of liquor, many in the present generation of people of Nagpur in general and that area in particular are happy to get addicted to liquor. Golibar Chowk memorial comes across as a grim reminder of how little the city of Nagpur has done to pass on the inspiring stories of heroes of India’s freedom struggle, to younger generation of citizens. When Nagpurians themselves are not aware, how can they inform the tourists/visitors/guests about such landmark places in city? It is for the city fathers and society as a whole to provide answer to this question.