Another forgotten hero – Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali
India is a victim of abundance when it comes to the people who never got their due. Many heros and their stories have either have been diluted by the flow of time and some have been deliberately erased. During the freedom struggle the incident of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 shocked many. One had never seen such a brutal wrath of the British Empire, where pure hell was unleashed on unarmed Indian civilian. Colonel Dyer, who was then a temporary brigadier general became the face of the barbaric act done by the Britishers.
This incident has rightly found space at every schoolbooks. In the same decade another incident happened which is neither remembered nor its Hero. The Incident is “Peshawar Kand” and its hero was “Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali”.
Chandra Singh Bhandari was born in 1891 in a very humble family. Born in a farmer’s family, he never got a chance to get a formal education and was self-taught. At a young age of 23 he joined the armed forces in 1914. Within one year he got his first assignment to fight in France followed by Mesopotamia and Baghdad. By now he had worked his way up to being a Havaladar. After the end of first world war the British Army was being trimmed down, though he got to keep his job but was demoted back to Soldier rank. This made him very upset and decided to walk out. The officers were very much aware of his bravery and managed to retain him.
During this time there was hardly anyone who was not touched by the freedom struggle and was not influenced by the Mahatma. When Mahatma Gandhi came to Uttarakhand (then Uttar Pradesh), he held a public meeting in June 1929 at Bageshwar, Almora which young Chandra Singh attended wearing his army cap. This caught the attention of Gandhiji. The Mahatma asked him if he was not afraid of the army cap to which young Chandra Singh replied by saying that if Gandhiji wished, he could remove his cap. When Gandhiji presented him with a Khadi cap, the soldier pledged to redeem the honor of the cap one day.
One can never hide their patriotic feelings and neither could Chandra Singh. British officers could sense it and he was transferred to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was very active and was leading a ‘Laal Kurti Agitation’ to support civil disobedience call made by Gandhiji. A big demonstration was called for 23rd April 1930 and thousands of Pathans had gathered in front of the Kissakhani Bazzar Police Chowki in Peshawar and the national flag was flying in their midst.
Captain Ricket ordered Chandra Singh who had been promoted to Havaldar Maj. by then to lead his men of Garhwal Rifles and crush the agitation. After giving warning to the demonstrators Captain Rickets gave the dreaded orders“ Garhwal Rifles, three rounds of fire’, these orders met with equally firm orders of young Chandra Singh saying ‘Garhwal rifles, cease fire’ who was adamant that his men would not shoot on innocent citizens.
This act of his sent the shock waves through the British Empire. He was arrested with his men and was tried for treason. Lawyer Mukandilal managed to change his sentence from death penalty to life imprisonment. The government confiscated his property and he served 11 years of rigorous sentence through various prison cells across the country.
His action not only brought high degree of respect for already renowned Garhwal Rifles but people started to address him as “Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali’. After his release his zeal to fight the British became stronger and was arrested again for three years. He could not enter Garhwal until 1946 due to various restriction placed on him.
He had stint in politics and contested from Communist Party in 1957 and adamantly opposed Nehruvian congress. After a long illness the brave Chandra Singh fell silent in 1979.
By resisting those orders did he saved captain Rickets from committing that barbaric act which would have put him at the same pedestal as Dyer or he was better of following the orders and live a happy life afterwards. He paid a heavy price for listening to his conscious. What he got in return was a stamp which was issued in his memory. His name is taken with utmost respect in the hills of Uttarakhand but does rest of India knows about it? I am not sure.
While Jallianwala Bagh is rightly remembered by everyone, hardly anyone knows about Peshawar Incident. Is it only because one person averted that massacre and we really do not care for something which never happened or we should only remember the tragedies? Tough Tragedies shake us, make us angry forcing us to think, someone pays a very heavy price for it. I am sure there could be many more such hero’s who had walked the length and breadth of this great land. Who are we to ask of what they got in return? I am sure the Brave Chandra Singh never thought of it either. Hero’s don’t always wear capes, sometimes they wear a cap too.