Chapekar brothers, Patriots from Maharashtra who are yet to get their due

We as Indians have a very poor sense of history. 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 existence of Sarasvati River having been proven through satellite imagery yet this finds no mention in history texts. Regional heroes are restricted to just a couple of popular names in almost every state. It is; therefore, no wonder that not many in Maharashtra know about Chapekar brothers whose contribution during our freedom struggle has been underplayed to say the least.

Chapekar Wada in Chinchwad is the birth place of the revolutionary brothers Damodar, Balkrishna and Vasudeo were born to Hari and Dwarka Chapekar. Their father became a kirtankar (one who narrates stories from the Puranas and other shastras as well as sings devotional songs) having been trained in Sanskrit. 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.

Residence of Chapekar brothers

Revolutionary spirit was ignited in them when they met with 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 soar to 600. Members were trained in sword and stick fights as well as gun/pistol firing.

Chapekar brothers are, however, best known for killing Officer Rand and Lt. Ayerst. On 22nd 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. Damodar escaped to Bombay and Balkrishna went away to Nizam’s territory. In October 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 18th April 1898 and Balkrishna on 12th May 1899. Vasudeo learnt of Ganesh’s treachery and shot him and his brother dead on 9th February 1899. Vasudeo was aided by Mahadev Vinayak Ranade and Khando Vishnu Sathe. Vasudeo and Mahadev were hanged to death on 8th and 10th May 1899 and Sathe was sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment.

Statue of the brothers at Chinchwad

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 desecration of idols in homes of individual’s etc lead the brothers to assassinate Rand. This was their way of igniting the passions of Indians and asking them to fight the British. It was not merely a slaying of couple of officers or betrayers among Indians but the larger message they were sending across was that they as Indians would not be taking oppression passively and that they were courageous enough to fight back even if the enemy was powerful.

In 1979 a Marathi film titled “22nd June 1897” was released which depicted the events leading up to the killing of Rand, the actual incident and its aftermath. Recently (23rd September 2016) Hindi film “Chapekar brothers” was brought to the screens highlighting the contributions of the three brothers. At Chinchwad stands a statue of 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. We, as I mentioned earlier, have reduced history learning to a limited persons and issues. Isn’t it time to move beyond Gandhi, Nehru and others so that lesser known revolutionaries such as Chapekar brothers, Rajguru, Surya Sen and other such revolutionaries find a voice and place in our history texts?