Autobiography of Ram Prasad Bismil #1

I am posting the translation of the Autobiography of Hutatma Ram Prasad Bismil, a revolutionary in Indian Freedom Movement. Ram Prasad Bismil was a key member of revolutionary movement and an accused in Kakori conspiracy case. This is the first part. I will post as and when I manage the translations. Please comment your suggestions. Follow the translations here.

Introduction

Ram Prasad Bismil
Bismil

There are two villages in Tomarghar on the banks of the Chambal river, which are very famous in the state of Gwalior{the princely state of Gwalior ruled by Maharaja Sindhia} for the daring and delinquency of their inhabitants. They do not care about state’s authority. Many zamindars pay revenue the year they wish to, and withhold it when they do not. If the tehsildar or some other state official comes to wnforce state’s writ, these zamindars go into the ravines and remain in ravines for months. Their animals also live there and the food is also prepared in the ravines. They do not leave any valuable coomodity at home which can be collected and auctioned against the revenue. 

There is a story prevalent in relation to a landowner, that he got some tax free land due to not paying revenue. At first he was absconding for many years. Once caught by deception, the officers of the tehsil tortured them a lot. He was tied for many days without food and water. Finally he was threatened to be burnt alive. They put wood below his feet and set it on fire. But the landlord did not accept to pay the land tax and replied: “The loss of my taxes will not affect Gwalior Maharaj’s treasury”. The world thinks that such a person wastes his life only because of arrogance. But the state was written to, and as a result the land was given in amnesty/remission to that gentleman. Similarly, once upon a time, the residents of these villages thought of a wonderful game. They stole sixty camels of Maharaja and hid them in ravines. The matter was brought to attention of the state. It was ordered by the state that both the villages be blown up with cannons. Somehow the camels were returned by persuasion and the officials were told that such a large state is has these few brave people, so it would not be appropriate to destroy them. The cannons were thus returned and the village survived. These people no longer persecute the inhabitants of the state, but often they come to the British ruled territory and cause nuisance and raid the houses of the rich and flee to the ravines. Once they reach the ravines, no police or military can harm a single of their hairs. Both these villages are on the banks of the Chambal river, about fifteen miles from the border of the English territory. 

My grandfather Sri Narayanlal ji was born here in a famous family. He was forced to leave his native land and wandered here and there due to domestic discord, mostly the unbearable behaviour of his sister-in-law. Finally he reached Shahjahanpur {in then United Provinces and now Uttar Pradesh} with his wife and two sons . Among these two sons, the eldest son Mr. Muralidharji is my father. At that time, he was eight years old and his younger son – my uncle (Mr. Kalyanmal) was six years old. Around this time there was a terrible famine in the region.

After making many efforts, Shri Narayanlal ji got a job of three rupees monthly salary at an attar’s{perfume seller} shop in Shahjahanpur. In three rupees monthly, how could four beings survive during famine? Grandmother tried very hard to fill the stomach of the children by eating only half a stomach on her own, but it was still difficult to make do. They then tried to manage by eating coarse grains like millets, jowar, etc. , but still it proved impossible to survive. They also made gruel of the cheapest vegetables and cheapest grains. Grandmother and grandfather managed like this by the day with great difficulty , but it would have been difficult to spend the night empty stomach. If this was the state of availability of food, what to say of clothes and rent? 

Grandma wanted to get the same wages even by working as domestic help, but who would believe such immigrants with strange language{they probably spoke Bundelkhandi, and the language of Shahjahanpur is Awadhi} in affluent homes? Nobody would even agree to give wages for grinding grains. They feared that she would eat the raw grains in these times of famine! After a lot of effort, one or two women agreed to let her grind grain at their home, but how to break this news to the women already working in their homes? So after many such bottlenecks, she would grind five to seven ser grains. The wages for milling at that time were one paisa per panseri. With great difficulty, eating half a stomach at a time, and grinding for three to four hours would have earned a paisa or a paisa and a half. Then she had to come home and prepare food for the children. This situation remained for three years. Sometimes,  Grandpa would put forth the idea of ​​returning to the native country, but the answer of Grandma would be : “We left our country, lost everything and had to see these days. Now it is better to die than to put our heads in the feet of the same person and accept slavery. These days would not last forever.” She faced all kinds of hardships, but grandmother did not return to the country again.     

In four-five years, when some gentlemen became acquainted with our family and realized that the woman is of good family that has fallen into bad times, many women started taking her help in domestic work. The famine had also finished. Sometimes some gentleman would also make donations to the family. Somehow life was going on. Many persons of good families, who had no children and had enough money, gave many kinds of temptation to Grandpa to give them one of the boys and offered as much money as they asked for. But Grandma was the ideal mother, she never did care for such temptations and somehow kept rearing her children.


Hard labour and priestly duties got the family some money. On the advice of some noble persons, father was arranged to get education in a school. Dadaji also made some efforts and his salary also increased and he started getting seven rupees monthly. Some time after this, he quit his job and started a shop for selling paisa, Duanni, Chavanni etc.{this probably refers to a small money exchange business} In this business he earned five to seven annas{1 Rs. = 16 annas. 1 anna was 4 paisa those days.} every day. The days of adversity were over due to herculean efforts and fortitude. The credit for all of this goes to Dadiji. The courage and patience with which she acted does in fact point to the help of some divine power. Otherwise, what is the ability of an uneducated rural woman to go to a stange place and work hard to sustain herself and make her children educated; that too when she had not stepped out of the house in her life? On top of it she belonged to such a conservative country where every Hindu practice is religiously followed and the residents of which protect their traditional practices even with their lives. No daughter in law of a Brahmin or a Kshatriya or a Vaishya there has the daring to walk from one house to another without first ensuring a full veil of one and a half hands. The same rule is for the brides of the Shudra caste. The dress of the Shudras is different, so that by looking at them it can be immediately recognized from far off that it is a woman of a low caste. These practices have become so prevalent that they have taken the form of atrocities. It is said that once upon a time a bride of a shoemaker whose paternal home was in the English territory, went to touch the feet of the landowner as per custom. She was wearing bichhuve(nupur) on her feet but in everything else she was dressed according to her caste tradition. The landlord’s gaze fell on his feet. On being asked, it was known that she is the daughter-in-law of a Chamar. The landlord came outside wearing a shoe and stood on her feet and pressed it hard that her fingers were cut. He said that if the daughters-in- law of Chamars would wear such ornaments, what would the women of the upper caste wear? These people are extremely uneducated and foolish but live in their false caste-pride. The poorest and most illiterate Brahmin or Kshatriya, irrespective of age, is worthy of respect if he passes through a Shudra caste colony; no matter how rich or old a Shudra is, he will have to get up and make a salute. If he does not do so immediately, that Brahmin or Kshatriya can beat him with shoes, and all will say that it is the fault of that Shudra! If a girl or daughter-in-law is suspected of being an adulteress, she is killed without any thought and is thrown into Chambal. In the same way, if a widow is accused of adultery or any kind of misconduct, even if she is pregnant, she should immediately cut into pieces and thrown into Chambal and no one would be wiser. Although humans there are also virtuous. Everyone considers anybody’s daughter-in-law as their own daughter-in-law. Not a single one of them would hesitate to give his life to protect the dignity of women. Being married in this type of country and after seeing all these kinds of practices, it is to Dadiji’s credit to show so much courage.    

By the grace of God, bad days passed. Dad got some education and Dadaji bought a house too. The family which was forced to roam from door-to-door, found a place to settle peacefully. Then they thought of getting Dad married. Grandmother went to her parents’ with grandfather and father. Dad got married there. After staying there for three- four months, they brought the bride back with them.

Notes on chapter:-

  1. All readers have my permission to share this translation of autobiography of Ram Prasad Bismil with or without mention of my name. Please do ensure that any such sharing is not commercial in nature.
  2. It is not clear how family of Ram Prasad Bismil, which was a Kshtriya earned money from priestly duties, but it has been mentioned in the biography.
  3. The kind of famine Ram Prasad Bismil mentions in this chapter were very common in India during British Rule. The final such famine was in 1943 in which about 3 million people died.
  4. The ravines Ram Prasad Bismil mentions were haven of dacoits for a very long time after independence and finally were rid of them only in 21st century.
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