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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Chapekar brothers: patriots from Maharashtra who are yet to get their due

Bharatiyas have a very poor sense of history. Hence, regional heroes are restricted to just a couple of popular names. That the Chapekar brothers are not known to many, therefore, is not surprising. contribution to our freedom struggle has been underplayed, to say the least.

Childhood of the Chapekar brothers

Chapekar Wada in Chinchwad is the birthplace of the Chapekars brothers. Damodar, Balkrishna and Vasudeo were born to Hari and Dwarka Chapekar. Their father, who was trained in Sanskrit, became a kirtankar. A kirtankar is one who narrates stories from the Puranas and other shastras as well as sings devotional songs.

The Chapekar brothers did not receive any formal education but they were well-versed in the Shastras as they accompanied their father during his discourses. They also played various musical instruments because their father did not have enough resources to hire professional musicians. They grew up in a traditional household with traditional values.


Igniting the revolutionary spirit

The revolutionary spirit was ignited in them when they met Bal Gangadhar Tilak. One day when Tilakji was addressing a gathering, the brothers sought an audience with him. They were asked to voice their opinions or concerns to the crowd at large. They read out a Marathi poem which brought forth their anger against the atrocities of the British Raj.

After rendering the poem they asked Tilak as to what action he intended to take against the British. Tilak in turn questioned them saying “You are too a part of this country; why don’t you do something”? Motivated by Tilak’s words, the brothers started Chapekar Club inviting young men to join the club and revolt against the British. The club was quite popular and within three months its membership soared to 600. Members were given training in sword and stick fights and gun/pistol firing.

Chapekar brothers are, however, best known for killing Officer Rand and Lt. Ayerst. On 22 June 1897, the two British officers were returning after attending the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations when the Chapekar brothers attacked the carriage of Rand. While Damodar shot Rand at point-blank range; his brother Balkrishna fired on Ayerst killing him as well.

Following the attack, Damodar escaped to Bombay and Balkrishna went away to Nizam’s territory. In October of that year, the brothers were traced to their respective locations after they were betrayed by Ganesh Shankar Dravid. Damodar was sent to the gallows on 18 April 1898 and Balkrishna on 12 May 1899.

Vasudeo learnt of Ganesh’s treachery and shot him and his brother dead on 9 February 1899. Vasudeo was aided by Mahadev Vinayak Ranade and Khando Vishnu Sathe. Vasudeo and Mahadev were hanged to death on 8 and 10 May 1899 and Sathe was sentenced to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.

There is no doubt in the fact that they were inspired by Tilak and his ideals. Multiple factors such as atrocities committed by British officers during plague searches such as the desecration of idols in the homes of individuals etc led the brothers to assassinate Rand. This was their way of igniting the passion of Bharatiyas and inspiring them to fight the British.

It was not merely a slaying of a couple of officers or betrayers but the larger message they were sending across was that they as Bharatiyas would not be taking oppression passively and that they were courageous enough to fight back even if the enemy was powerful.

Chapekar brothers in popular culture

In 1979 a Marathi film titled 22nd June 1897 was released which depicted the events leading to the killing of Rand, the actual incident and its aftermath. In September 2016, the Hindi film Chapekar Brothers was brought to the screens highlighting the contributions of the three brothers. At Chinchwad, there is a statue of the Chapekar brothers reminding us of their contributions.

Unfortunately, though, not many know about them. Damodar was 28 at the time of his execution while Balkrishna and Vasudeo were 26 and 20 years respectively. They gave up their lives at such a young age for the sake of this nation but sadly, we’ve restricted our history textbooks to a few stories: episodes, incidents, heroes or dynasties; are all restricted to a few selected ones.

Besides we don’t even consider it important to update our textbooks with the latest research material or for that matter even carrying out research related to history is quite a rarity. Sample this: we all know about the existence of the Sarasvati River has been proven through satellite imagery yet this finds no mention in the history textbooks.

We, as I mentioned earlier, have reduced history learning to limited persons and issues. Isn’t it time to move beyond Gandhi, Nehru and others so that lesser-known revolutionaries such as the Chapekar brothers, Rajguru, Surya Sen and several others find a place in our history texts?

(Featured Image Source: Madras Courier)

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A opinionated girl-next-door with an attitude. I'm certainly not afraid to call myself 'a proud Hindu' and am positively politically incorrect. A Bharatiya at heart who loves reading, music, sports and nature. Travelling and writing are my passions.


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