This journalist died saving thousands of lives in a riot! A hard core friend of Bhagath Singh left us teachings of Humanity and Harmony…

He was a fierce freedom fighter who stood for equality for all! But, it is sad that his name being misused by all so-called seculars as he is their role model! But, in the name of equality, he never suppressed Hindus, in the name of humanity, he never betrayed his country! It is unfortunate that we, the Indians have forgotten him decades ago!

He is none other but Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, a remarkable journalist and freedom fighter who fought oppression during a critical period in India’s freedom struggle against the British!  Born on 26 October 1890 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, Ganesh Vidyarthi was killed on 25th March of 1931 by a furious mob during a communal violence in Kanpur, when he was trying to save lives of thousands of both Hindus and Muslims!!

He defined his ideology as, “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.”

On March 25, 1931, Nearly two days after Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Chandrasekhar Azad were sent to the gallows, 40-years-old Shankar Vidyarthi lost his life trying to save people during a communal riot in Kanpur.

Regarding his loss in a column for Young India, Mahatma Gandhi has written,

“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 too similar effort should the occasion arise again.”

When journalists are at the stage of receiving the allegations of communal tensions, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi taught us the religious harmony, national unity and most important fact – Humanity!

That was a time when Mahatma Gandhi was protesting for the nation and every freedom fighters were following Gandhi! We may say that Gandhi’s daring actions following the 1946 Calcutta riots are probably a direct legacy of Vidyarthi’s sacrifice.

Vidyarthi finished school and enrolled at the Kayastha Pathshala College, but was unable to graduate since he had to support his family!  Evidently, his inability to graduate didn’t faze him and in fact adopted the name Vidyarthi which means a seeker of knowledge, as an acknowledgement of the idea that he will never stop learning. He has proved it too!

Though his real passion was to be a journalist, he went onto become a clerk in the currency office. He started writing for a publication called Karmayogi founded by Pandit Sunderlal who was a leader of the revolutionary Ghadar movement. He quit the publication at the age of 23 and moved to Kanpur and started his own Hindi weekly publication called Pratap, which often got fame due to its judgemental articles.

He was not just a journalist who reports regarding the freedom struggle but also a social reformer, who wrote about social inequities in Indian society. After suffering criticism at the hands of the very same publication, he refused patronage from an owner of a princely estate, who had offered to financially support Pratap intended to be an independent writer.

His writings regarding colonial Britain’s industrial plunder, and about the plight of workers in Kanpur mills and oppressed peasants in Rae Bareli made a turning point of his life. He wrote,

“Now the time has come for our political ideology and our movement no [to] be restricted to the English-educated and to spread among the common people [samanya janta], and for Indian public opinion [lokmat], to be not the opinion of those few educated individuals but to mirror the thoughts of all the classes of the country…democratic rule is actually the rule of public opinion.”

In 1916, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi met Mahatma Gandhi in Kanpur and inspired by his ideals dove straight into the freedom movement. He was sent to jail five times refusing to apologise for his words for his subsequent writings and public speeches.  It is obvious that he wasn’t scared of asking tough questions of his own people. He asked, If India does achieve Independence, who will it be for? Would the Brown Sahib replace the White ruler?” 

Over time, he became an influential Congress leader during the Non-Cooperation Movement in what was then the United Province with his base in Kanpur. Despite his allegiance to Gandhi and his non-violent methods, Vidyarthi also closely supported the cause of India’s young revolutionaries.He never stood against revolutionaries! He believed that ‘Not only ‘asking’ pays independence, but the action does much better!’ It is unfortunate that, the people who call themselves as patriots, now say that they are inspired by his young fighter as if they are truly into his ideology!

History records say that “In 1924, he met Bhagat Singh through Maulana Hasarat Mohani and joined in their protests. The two fighters became a close colleague and friend. Later he met and associated himself with Chandra Shekhar Azad! Besides giving an accommodation to Bhagat Singh while on the run, he has allowed him to write in Pratap and helped in setting up a meet between Jawaharlal Nehru and Chandrashekhar Azad, who was just beginning to make strides in the freedom movement.”

He held the British Raj responsible for fomenting communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as part of their Divide and Rule Policy though it was his ability to discern and tackle the poison of communalism, which really stands out today.

Annie Zaidi, in her column for Daily O., writes, “In his editorials, he liked to remind readers that Ram-Lila performances had been held on the grounds outside mosques across north India!”  Vidyarthi sought a resolution when many in the freedom movement, were unable to confront the seeds of communal division within their ranks.”

But, his efforts went in vain when news came in of the British hanging Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev for their purported crimes against the Empire! Do you know why? Because Congress workers in Kanpur called for a “peaceful and non-violent” demonstration. Though there was a chance of saving the trios, Mahatma Gandhi did not try! Just because, the trios were turned out to be revolutionist and found a right way of achieving independence, Gandhi was silent over the issue!

Vidyarthi was in Karachi at that time, attending a major session of the freedom struggle. meanwhile, in Kanpur, the minor incident turned to be a big communal riot. Hearing about this spate of violence, Vidyarthi left the sessions and 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 in the mohallas.

Unfortunately, the entire riot cost Vidyarthi’s life! He was completely unarmed where he could not find anything to save himself! Stepping out into the Mohalla, he tried to diffuse the violence! But, he was butchered by the mob!

Lasted a little over a week, the riots in Kanpur left more than 400 people dead! Many historians and social commentators of the time believe that the riots were instigated by local British authorities since Kanpur had become a major centre of anti-imperial activity and a hub of confrontation against the big businesses that exploited the locals.

The British were just taking an entertainment out of this riot! Because our people were fighting against each other excusing themselves as they are fighting against the British!

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.

Where portions of the role of party workers in the riots were carefully edited out with the leadership evidently unable to confront this division with the ranks, Vidyarthi bravely confronted this division, sought to resolve it and was butchered to death for his troubles.

Yes! A man of the principle of Humanity, he stood high till the end! Now answer me! How many journalists in India could claim this man’s legacy?! Count yourself!

ps: Stop saying you all self-declared ‘humanity seekers’ as he is your role model! Do not ruin the legacy of ‘true nationalist’!

Source: The Better India

Sushmitha Saptharshi