He tried to teach harmony to a violent mob, and was butchered by them! A sad tale of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi’s courage

Just two days after Bhagat Singh, Rajguru were hanged by the british, India lost one more of her brave son. He stood by the principle he believed in and lost his life trying to save people during a communal riot.

Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was only 40 year old when he was butchered by an angry Muslim mob, in kanpur riots, on 25th of March, 1931.

“I am a fighter against oppression and injustice, whether practised by bureaucrats, zamindars, capitalists or those of high caste. I have fought all my life against oppression against inhumanity and may God give me the strength to fight on till the last.”

These were the words of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi. He was a remarkable journalist and freedom fighter who fought oppression by the British during a critical period in India’s freedom struggle.

It was  a time when freedom fighters were following the path laid down by Gandhi, but Ganesh Shankar was a man who showed Gandhi way forward. Gandhi’s daring actions following the 1946 Calcutta riots are probably because of Vidyarthi’s sacrifice.

He was Born on October 26, 1890, in Attarsuiya, Allahabad. His father was a school teacher. He had a very humble beginning. He completed his school and enrolled at the Kayastha Pathshala College, but was unable to graduate since he had to support his family. his inability to graduate didn’t get his spirits low, in fact he adopted the name Vidyarthi – seeker of knowledge, as an acknowledgement of the idea that he will never stop learning.

He went onto become a clerk in the currency office, but his real passion was journalism. He began writing for Karmayogi founded by Pandit Sunderlal, a leader of the revolutionary Ghadar movement. At the age of the 23, however, he quit the publication, moved to Kanpur and started his own Hindi weekly publication called Pratap.

He wrote extensively about freedom struggle. He also spoke strongly about social inequities in Indian society. to remain independent, he refused patronage from an owner of a princely estate.

Vidyarthi passionately wrote about the plight of workers in Kanpur mills and oppressed peasants in Rae Bareli . in 1916 when he met Mahatma Gandhi in Kanpur, he took a dive straight into the freedom movement.

For his articles in Pratap and public speeches, he was sent to jail five times. He always refused to apologise for his words.

Over time he became an influential Congress leader during the Non-Cooperation Movement.

Despite his allegiance to Gandhi and his non-violent methods, Vidyarthi also closely supported the cause of India’s young revolutionaries. He had offered Bhagat Singh shelter while on the run, and made him write in Pratap. he also helped set up a meet between Chandrashekhar Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru, who was just into the freedom movement at that time.

But what made him different from most of the freedom fighters is the fact that he fought against the venomous communism spread by british. He held the British Raj responsible for the communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as part of their Divide and Rule Policy.

It is sad that, his efforts went in vain. When news of British hanging Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev came out, Congress workers in Kanpur called for a peaceful demonstration. congressmen urged a ‘hartal’ and Muslim shopkeepers who objected to closing of their shops. This took a violent turn into a communal riot. The riot resulted in spilling blood of 400 people.

At the time, Vidyarthi was in Karachi attending a major session of the Congress party. Hearing about this incident of violence, Vidyarthi left and reached kanpur. He threw himself in the act of protecting and saving thousands of innocent Hindus and Muslims caught in the violence.

He tried to reason with blood-thirsty mobs.

Unfortunately, one such attempt to reason with armed mobs cost Vidyarthi his life. He walked into a Mohalla without any footwear or anything to cover his head, he was trying to diffuse the tension, when he was attacked by a mob of 200 armed Muslim men. he was butchered on the spot.

The riots in Kanpur, which lasted a little over a week. Many historians of the time believe that British authorities let the violence burn the city since Kanpur had become a major centre of anti-imperial activity.

“The police stand by watching unconcerned while mosques and temples are burnt, people are beaten, and shops are looted,” wrote Vidyarthi in a letter during the riot.

Mourning his loss in a column for Young India, Mahatma Gandhi had this to say:

“The death of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was one to be envied by us all. His blood is the cement that will ultimately bind the two communities.”

” No pact will bind our hearts. But heroism such as Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi showed is bound in the end to melt the stoniest hearts, melt them into one. The poison has however gone so deep that the blood even of a man so great, so self-sacrificing and so utterly brave as Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi may today not be enough to wash us of it. Let this noble example stimulate us all to similar effort should the occasion arise again.” these were words spoken by Gandhiji.

But did the hearts unite? Instead of strongly condemning both the parties involved in violence, Gandhi’s condemnation was only limited to his party workers. This led to a massive wrong done to India, and the result was horrific partition of our land. And Gandhi did nothing to prevent it.

Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was A man of principle, he stood tall till the very end.

Dr Sindhu Prashanth