Babuji, I have seen many big heroes and warriors (Surmas), but never have I seen such a lion-hearted fellow. During the last war I took part in the battles of Jordan and Mesopotamia (Iraq). But I had never seen such a valiant hero, never had I thought that anyone could possess such valour The day in which his sentence for hanging became final, since that day his body started to shine like a colourful rose it started to bloom like a rose, a red rose. Babuji I used to be perplexed seeing his appearance; I never have seen in my life such a smiling appearance. I had no idea how could a man be so broad-minded and how could he have so much joy in him. I cant think how such a sober boy can be so brave!
The above comment is of a constable of Gaya Jail, regarding the great revolutionary martyr Baikunth Shukla. This was nothing but the expression of heartfelt respect towards the broadness of mind and the death defying qualities of character of the great martyr who dedicated his life for the freedom struggle of India, and sacrificed his life on the gallows on 14th May 1934, in Gaya Central Jail, Bihar.
Baikunth Shukla was born in 1910 in the Jalalpur village of Lalganj Police Station, which was within the erstwhile undivided Muzaffarpur District (Now in Vaishali District) of Bihar. His education was in the primary school of the village. He could continue his study not much more. Afterwards he became a teacher in the lower primary school in Mathurapur village situated 4 Km away from Jalalpur. In those days he was a typical village Brahmin and seeing him it was impossible to guess that he was going to be the valiant revolutionary fighter in future. During the first half of the year 1930, Baikunth Shukla got acquainted with renowned freedom fighter and patriot, Kishori Prasanna Singh. At that time, Kishori Prasanna and his wife Suniti Devi, with a team of volunteers, were moving from village to village campaigning for the Salt Satyagraha movement by Gandhiji, in those parts. Baikunth, being impressed by Kishori Prasanna Singh, expressed his desire to go along with him for the campaigning. As was the usual rural custom of those days Baikunth was married at a very young age and his wife Radhika Devi was a very ordinary rural lady involved in domestic chores only. It was very difficult for him to convince her to go along with them. Under Baikunths request a Suniti Devi convinced Radhika Devi to stay in the Gandhi Ashram in Hazipur along with other ladies. There, from an ordinary housewife, she turned into a volunteer of boycott movement and that helped Baikunth also to become a devoted volunteer in the freedom movement.
During this campaign, Baikunth was arrested and sent to Patna Camp Jail. There he met the renowned revolutionary freedom fighter cum-writer Bibhuti Bhusan Das. From him he used to listen to the revolutionary stories and spirited poems of Rabindranath Tagore. The latter had left a deep imprint in him. When by dint of Gandhi-Irwin Pact, a large number of arrested volunteers were released, Baikunth Shukla also got released from jail.
Meanwhile under the leadership of Chandrasekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh, the activities of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) were spreading. Already they were influenced by the Soviet revolution and Socialist ideology. They felt that individual episodes of heroism and isolated attacks, and secret revolutionary organisations cannot help accomplish the objective of revolutionary movement. Open mass movement and open political organisation was the need of the hour. In order to enhance the views of the revolutionary organisation, Bhagat Singh courted arrest along with Batukeswar Dutta, and tried to utilize the trial court as a platform to propagate the views. But soon Sukhdev, Rajguru and other revolutionary fighters were arrested and the murder case of Saunders in Lahore Garden started. Saunders was the Deputy Commissioner of Police who carried the order of the lathi-charge on highly revered leader Lala Lajpat Rai, which caused his death. Soon Bhagat Singhs involvement in this case was discovered and his trial started. During the police raids, among other revolutionaries Phanindranath Ghosh was also arrested. He was a member of the Central Committee of the HSRA. During the formation of HSRA he was the representative of Bihar in its Central Committee. But, while in police custody, out of sheer cowardice and greed he became main government approver in that case. After the conclusion of Lahore Conspiracy Case in which death sentence was awarded to Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, Phanindranath Ghosh returned to his home town Betiah in Bihar. Being government approver he received a large amount of money and with that he started a business in Mina Bazar of Betiah. This was a black spot and a matter of shame for other revolutionary activists in Bihar.
Chandrasekhar Azad and Yogendra Shukla a senior revolutionary leader of Bihar, discussing with other leaders of the revolutionary organisation passed death sentence to the betrayer Phanindranath Ghosh. The first attempt to execute that order was made by Bhagwan Das and Sadashiv Rao Malpurkar. But Phanindranath eventually escaped this attempt unhurt. Meanwhile, on 27th February, 1931 Chandrasekhar Azad died a martyrs death after an encounter with the police in Allahabad. Yogendra Shukla also was arrested. In September or October of 1932, the revolutionaries of Punjab sent a message to the revolutionaries of Bihar that should they continue to bear this shameful black spot or obliterate it? The revolutionaries of Bihar called a meeting with this agenda in which Kishori Prasanna Singh, Akhsayvat Roy, Suniti Devi, Baikunth Shukla and others were present. Suniti Devi volunteered to execute the punishment order. But some other revolutionaries opposed it as she was the only lady in the leadership of the organisation and her absence will cost it dearly. Then Baikunth Shukla took the opportunity to stake his claim. Others also volunteered for the same responsibility. So a lottery was conducted and Baikunths name was picked.
When Phanindranath Ghosh first returned to Betiah there was always police guard to protect him. But after a few months the guard was withdrawn and he himself and the administration became assured of his safety. In such a time, on 9th October 1932 Baikunth Shukla and Chandrama Singh executed the penalty of death to the betrayer Phanidranath Ghosh who at that time was sitting in his shop in Meena Bazaar, Betiah. Although Chandrama Singh was not directly involved in the revolutionary organisation and he was not supposed to go, since he was a very close friend of Baikunth, he voluntarily accompanied him in the dangerous action. Unfortunately another innocent person who was present there at that time tried to protect Phanindranath, and sustained unintended but severe injury, to which he succumbed a few days later.
Both Baikunth and Chandrama Singh escaped from Betiah on foot. They crossed the Gandak river by swimming. They moved to Malkhachak of Chhapra District and took shelter at Ramvinod Singhs house. This house was a regular shelter for the revolutionaries because Ramvinod Singh was a close friend of Bhagat Singh.
While staying in Ramvinod Singhs house Baikunth mentioned that they avenged the betrayal of Phanindranath. They instantly said What will happen? At best we will be arrested and hanged. We are prepared for that. But Baikunth said we must see that only one of us is arrested and face hanging and that should be me. Chandrama should be saved for the sake of his family.
Chandrama claimed just the reverse. Then Rambinod resolved the dispute by lottery and Baikunth was chosen as the person to face trial if needed. Chandrama left the place and Baikunth stayed there. But he didnt stay in hiding. He openly moved in markets, roads and even on some occasions he went to visit the jail. Renowned freedom fighter Basawan Singh has written in his autobiography that while he was interned in Gaya Jail and admitted to jail hospital one young boy came to visit him who was none but Baikunthe Shukla, absconding for the murder of government approver Phanindranath Ghosh.
He admitted that seeing Baikunth within jail premises he himself was trembling but Baikunth was serene and smiling. Tracing the link of cycle and clothes Baikunth was arrested on 6th July 1933 near Hazipur Bridge. Meanwhile Chandrama Singh was also arrested in Kanpur following an encounter with the police on 5th January 1933. Fearless in Face of Death
After arrest Baikunth was sent to Patna Camp Jail. Their trial was conducted in Muzaffarpur. Apart from the Judge there had been four Assessors. Due to lack of any evidence Chandrama could not be convicted in the murder case. In case of Baikunth three of the Assessors found him not guilty. The Trial Judge picked up the opinion of the fourth Assessor only and adjudged Baikunth guilty of murder of Phanindranath Ghosh and the other person.
After being convicted Baikunth was sent to Gaya Central Jail. There even in the condemned cell he was always kept hand-cuffed and chained. One intern of the jail, revolutionary Bibhuti Bhushan Das, has said in his autobiography that Baikunth was so simple, naïve and easy that even the jail guards were deeply impressed by his character. One Pathan Hawaldar once asked him if it was possible to get Baikunth released by appealing to the Queen or the authorities in England higher than even the Governor of India! He said he was ready to sacrifice his own life to save the life of Baikunth.
Bibhuti Bhushan Das further wrote that Baikunth often, again and again, requested him to sing the song on Khudiram. On the night before the day of hanging Baikunth from his own cell requested Bibhuti Bhushan to sing the song of Khudiram, then Rabindranath Tagores poems and the Vande Mataram.
On 14th May 1934, the day of hanging, when he finally came out of his cell, he shouted to all Brothers I am going. I also shall return (like the song of Khudiram), because India is still enslaved. Vande Mataram. The jail warden present at the time of the hanging told that when on the gallows his face was being covered with black cloth and he requested not to do that. The jail Superintendent Perera also granted that request. When he passed the final order, the executioner was hesitant to pull the lever. Baikunth shouted Why are you waiting?
Then the end came.
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