The patriotic path

As we celebrate our Independence Day, let’s join Preeti Verma Lal in exploring places that speak of the struggles of our countrymen for freedom from the British colonial rule

Jallianwala Bagh memorial in Amritsar, Punjab

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”.

Exactly 73 years ago, these words were spoken as India broke shackles and gained independence. This August 15, let’s remember the freedom fighters — the lauded and the unsung, the remembered and the forgotten — and visit places that still hold in their hearts the memory of valour and bloodshed for the motherland.

Jallianwala Bagh (Punjab)

On April 13, 1919, thousands of people who had arrived to celebrate Baisakhi in the Golden Temple gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, a walled garden, when an irate General Reginald Dyer, along with his troops, blocked the sole narrow path leading into the garden and opened fire for 10 minutes on the unarmed crowd of men, women, and children. Some jumped into the well to save their lives, others fell in the firing line and lost their lives. Nearly 379 died, though historians put the toll at much higher. Dyer, who called his act a “moral lesson”, was forced to resign from the army in March 1920, but sympathetic fellow Britishers raised 26,000 pounds for him. Today, Jallianwala Bagh and the Martyrs’ Well stand as a tribute to all those who lost their lives on Baisakhi day in 1919.

Cellular Jail (Andaman Island)

In 1858, the British had turned the Andaman & Nicobar Islands into a penal settlement, the ‘kaala paani’ island, and the cruelty of the rulers is still visible in the Cellular Jail, a seven-pronged puce-coloured building that sits next to the sea. It was here that Indian freedom fighters were relegated to solitary confinement in cells so small that even the rays of the sun could barely enter through the tiny window. There is a raised platform that holds an easel-like stand on which freedom fighters were tied and flogged. Not too far away is the room where a British officer sat on a high wooden chair while Indians worked at the rehat (Persian wheel). There are the gallows that make your blood chill, you can almost hear the shrieks of the nationalists in that room that is painted green and has yellow rope noose. The jail houses a museum that has sculptures of fettered men in prison uniform and memorabilia of callous days gone by.

Sabarmati Ashram (Gujarat)

Sitting between a jail and a crematorium, the Sabarmati Ashram (also known as Harijan Ashram) was home to Mahatma Gandhi from 1917 until 1930 and served as one of the main centres of the Indian freedom struggle. It was here that Gandhi experimented with farming, animal husbandry, cow breeding, khadi. On March 12, 1930, it was from this ashram that he launched the famous Dandi March to protest the British Salt Law. That day, Gandhi had also vowed that he would not return to the ashram until India won independence. He never returned — he was assassinated in January 1948.

Wagah Border (Punjab)

If Berlin had its Checkpoint Charlie and North and South Korea the Panmunjom Armistice Line, India and Pakistan have Wagah, the army post, just 27 km west of Amritsar. Every evening, around dusk, busloads of people reach the Wagah border to watch the famous goose-stepping parade and the ceremonial lowering of the national flags by the Indian and Pakistani army men within their territories. The tall, immaculately dressed Border Security Force men in khaki and the Pakistani Rangers in their uniform are cheered by their brethren as the parade begins at dusk. Patriotism runs high and the sound of Vande Mantram and Inquilab Zindabad tear the air. The ceremony that lasts less than 30 minutes has become a huge tourist attraction on both sides of the border.

Red Fort, Delhi
Red Fort, Delhi

Red Fort (Delhi)

Borrowing its name from the red sandstone of its walls, Red Fort is integrally linked to India’s freedom struggle. It was from here that the British deposed the last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar; it was from its ramparts that the first prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, announced to the nation that India was free.

The other must-do on the Independence trail in Delhi include Delhi Gate (Khooni Darwaa), Telegraph Office, Mutiny Memorial, Topkhana (magazine), Willioughby’s plaque and St James Church (Skinner’s Church).

Aga Khan Palace (Pune)

Built in 1892, the magnificent Aga Khan Palace is deeply connected with India’s freedom struggle. Following the launch of the Quit India Movement, Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba Gandhi, and his secretary Mahadev Desai were interned in the palace from August 9, 1942 to May 6, 1944. Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadev Desai died in captivity, and their samadhis are located in the Palace.

Barrackpore Jail (Kolkata)

On March 29, 1857, Mangal Pandey, a sepoy in the 34th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) of the English East India Company, attacked his British sergeant in Barrackpore, sparking off the First War of Indian Independence. Pandey was arrested, sentenced to death, and was hanged on April 8, 1857.

Hussainiwala National Martyrs Memorial (Punjab)

Built in 1968, the Memorial marks the location on the banks of the Sutlej river where Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru were cremated on March 23, 1931. It is also the cremation place of Batukeshwar Dutt, who was involved in bombing the Central Legislative Assembly with Bhagat Singh.

Chandrashekhar Azad Park (Prayagraj)

Formerly known as Alfred Park, it was in this Park that 24-year-old Chandrashekhar Azad, a revolutionary freedom fighter, engaged in a fierce gunfight with the British on February 27, 1931, and was martyred.

Ranchi (Jharkhand)

In Jharkhand, rebellion did not catapult out of a cannon one fine morning in 1857. The rage had started simmering much earlier when Christian missionaries began trickling into erstwhile Bihar and religious conversions gained momentum. In Ranchi, the GEL Church bears mute testimony to the Mutiny when two local Hindus, Ganpat Rai Pandey and Vishwanath Shahi, challenged the church authorities and vowed to blow up the church. They fired from a cannon that hit the church and the outer wall cracked. This confrontation gave birth to the myth that the cannon had demolished the church’s dome, though the church never had a dome! Ever since the church has been known as Murla Church (murla in local parlance means headless) and still remains synonymous with the Mutiny.

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