On August 8, 1942, a wave of patriotism blew across the country as Mahatma Gandhi called for the British Raj to Quit India. Thousands of Indians across the length and breadth of the country held demonstrations to overthrow the rule.
While the spirit of nationalism in each of these movements was unmatched, one mutiny in particular, spearheaded by students no older than 16 or 17, was immortalised.
Yes, we are talking about Patna’s iconic Shaheed Smarak or Martyr’s Memorial.
If you have wandered through the city’s corridors of power, you are no stranger to the life-size bronze statues of seven men.
Dressed in dhoti-kurtas with the quintessential Gandhi topi, the statues face the Old Patna Secretariat, a symbol of the event that transpired 76 years ago.
Here’s the lesser-known story.
It was the morning of 11th August 1942, three days after the Quit India Movement was launched.
At the time, over 6,000 students rushed into the gates of the erstwhile Patna Secretariat.
They bore no arms and had a singular objective–to hoist the flag on the building of the Secretariat, without causing any damage–neither to lives nor the public property.
It was also a reaction to the imprisonment of eminent Gandhian Dr Anugrah Narain, when he tried to unfurl the national flag in Patna.
But the British were firm in their resolve to sabotage the movement. Their Military Police, under the command of the District Magistrate W G Archer, was tasked with nipping the movement in the bud.
The Force tried to keep the students from reaching the Secretariat until 2 in the noon, but despite the resistance, the students marched on.
Archer knew their strength was unmatched. He decided to open fire.
But alas, the Brit Magistrate had forgotten that the men in his own police were Indians.
When the Bihar Military Police and the Rajputs put their guns down, the British decided to use the loyalty of the Gurkhas against the students. They did not fire on the crowd directly. Their shots were measured and targeted at the group which broke away from the crowd.
They wanted to kill the one bearing the flag.
But the spirit of the men was such that when one flag-bearer was gunned down, he passed the flag on to his companion.
The companion too was pushed to the ground by the barrage of bullets.
And like flies they fell, one after the other.
By the time the gunshots stopped, all seven were dead. Martyred in the name of the flag they wanted to hoist atop the Secretariat.
The seven students were later identified as:
- Umakant Prasad Sinha (Raman Ji) – Ram Mohan Roy Seminary, Class IX, Narendrapur, Saran
- Ramanand Singh – Ram Mohan Roy Seminary, Class IX, Sahadat Nagar, Patna
- Satish Prasad Jha – Patna Collegiate School, Class X, Khadahara, Bhagalpur
- Jagatpati Kumar – Bihar National College, Second year, Kharati, Aurangabad
- Devipada Choudhry – Miller High English School, Class IX, Silhat, Jamalpur
- Rajendra Singh – Patna High English School, Class X, Banwari Chak, Saran
- Ramgovind Singh – Punpun High English School, Class IX, Dasharatha, Patna
While the oldest among them was a college student, the rest were only young boys, no older than 17 studying in classes 9 or 10. But even as young as these men were, they became symbols of New India which was unafraid and revelled in its freedom.
The story of these seven martyrs was immortalised.
But an eighth hero was lost to the pages of history. He was the forgotten freedom fighter who hoisted the flag on the Secretariat building.
Recognised as Ram Krishna Sinha, a third-year student of Patna College, the young man had disguised himself as a gardener. The only thing on his mind was to enter the Secretariat and hoist the Tricolour.
According to a report in The Telegraph, he was arrested and sent to jail where he spent more than a year as an undertrial convict.
The proof of his feat was a certificate issued from the office of the Patna District Magistrate on September 22, 1948.
It stated, “He was arrested when he was a student of III year class of Patna College at the secretariat on 11.8.42. Lodged in Bankipore Jail and while escorted to Phulwari camp jail, mobs attacked on the escorting party and was let loose. His house and other belongings were attached for a period of another two months. Was again arrested on the 29th November 1942 and kept undertrial up to 30.8.42 and convicted section 225B IPC on 31.9.43 and sentenced for four months. Thus he suffered terribly on account of his participation.”
Speaking to the publication, Navendu Sharma, the late freedom fighter’s son, said, “My father never spoke about his contribution to the Quit India Movement publicly. But throughout his life, he wore khadi. We made an effort to get his statue installed in a park near our house in Kankerbagh. But nothing happened, and the statue of another person was installed there.”
Navendu added how his father was also instrumental in saving many Muslim women and children during the communal riots of 1947. His efforts also helped in the exodus from Mokama to Patna.
The man died in 1984 after retiring from government service.
The foundation stone of the Shaheed Smarak was laid on 15 August 1947, by the governor of Bihar, Mr Jairam Das Daulatram. The sculptor, Deviprasad Roychoudhury, built the bronze statue of the seven students with the national flag. The statues were originally cast in Italy and later placed in Patna.
Although the seven martyrs got their due, it is deeply saddening that the youth who risked his life and even spent time in jail for hoisting the flag was never recognised.
But now that you know his story, don’t forget to pay him your respects when you come across the Shaheed Smarak. Patna’s yesteryear folks weren’t too far from the truth when they said that the eighth statue was missing!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)