Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Tuesday said February 15 would henceforth be commemorated as “Shahid Diwas” in memory of the 34 freedom fighters who were killed by police in Tarapur town (now subdivision) of Bihar’s Munger district 90 years ago. The freedom fighters had never got their due, the Chief Minister said, even though the Tarapur massacre was the biggest carried out by the British police after the one in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in 1919.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had referred to the Tarapur massacre in his Mann ki Baat radio address of January 2021.
On February 15, 1932, a group of young freedom fighters planned to hoist an Indian national flag at Thana Bhavan in Tarapur. Police were aware of the plan, and several officers were present at the spot. Around 2 pm, even as the police carried out a brutal lathicharge, one Gopal Singh succeeded in raising the flag at Thana Bhavan. A 4,000-strong crowd pelted the police with stones, injuring an officer of the civil administration.
The police responded by opening indiscriminate fire on the crowd. After about 75 rounds were fired, 34 bodies were found at the spot, even though there were claims of an even larger number of deaths.
But only 13 of the dead could be identified: Vishwanath Singh (Chhatrahar), Mahipal Singh (Ramchua), Sheetal Chamar (Asarganj), Sukul Sonar (Tarapur), Santa Pasi (Tarapur), Jhonti Jha (Satkhariya), Singheshwar Rajhans (Bihma), Badri Mandal (Dhanpura), Basant Dhanuk (Laudhia), Rameshwar Mandal (Padbhada), Gaibi Singh (Maheshpur), Asharfi Mandal (Kastikri), and Chandi Mahto (Chorgaon). The remaining 21 remain unidentified.
The hanging of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru in Lahore on March 23, 1931, sent a wave of grief and anger around the country. Following the collapse of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, the Mahatma was arrested in early 1932. The Congress was declared an illegal organisation, and Nehru, Patel, and Rajendra Prasad were also thrown in jail.
In Munger, freedom fighters Srikrishna Singh, Nemdhari Singh, Nirapad Mukherjee, Pandit Dasrath Jha, Basukinath Rai, Dinanath Sahay, and Jaymangal Shastri were arrested.
There were two centres of activity for the freedom fighters in Munger: Dhol Pahadi near Tarapur, and Supaur-Jamua village in Sangrampur. A call given by the Congress leader Sardar Shardul Singh Kavishwar to raise the tricolour over government buildings resonated in Tarapur. At a meeting of freedom fighters held at Shri Bhavan in Supaur-Jamua, it was decided that a group of five freedom fighters, each carrying the national tricolour, would march towards government buildings, while hundreds would cheer them from a distance of 200 metres.
In 1967, during Bihar’s first non-Congress government led by Mahamaya Prasad Sinha, the Samyukta Socialist Party MLA from Tarapur, B N Prashant, first sought recognition for the freedom fighters. But it was only in 1984 that the government of Chandrashekhar Singh earmarked 100 square feet of land for a memorial in front of Thana Bhavan, and installed a marble plaque with the names of the 13 dead who are identified.
Several MLAs from Tarapur, including Mewalal Chaudhary of the JD(U) who passed away last year, from time to time asked for the recognition that is due to the freedom fighters. Under the Nitish Kumar government, 13 stone statues were erected.
On Tuesday, the Chief Minister announced that another 21 statues, symbolising the unidentified dead, would soon be erected in Tarapur, and that Shahid Diwas would be celebrated on February 15 with a state function from next year onward.
Jayram Viplav, president of the Tarapur-based Yuva Trust which has been demanding recognition of the sacrifice of the freedom fighters since 2012, said: “Although Thana Bhavan, where the tricolour was unfurled in 1932 before the police firing, has been vacated now and a park has been developed around it, the building should be declared a state or national heritage building. Even so, it is immensely satisfying to see the Tarapur martyrs being finally recognised.”
The Chief Minister’s announcement is an attempt to recognise and to take pride in the modern history of the state. The mention of the police firing by the Prime Minister, who credited Viplav for bringing it to his notice, provided urgency to the state government’s project to develop and beautify the site. It has also been pointed out that those killed by the police were mainly members of Scheduled Castes and OBCs, a fact that political parties would like to appropriate.
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