22 June 1897
The Chapekar brothers case
On 22 June 1897, brothers Damodar Hari Chapekar and Balkrishna Hari Chapekar assassinated a British official W. C. Rand and his military escort Lieutenant Ayerst at Pune, Maharashtra. This was the first case of militant nationalism in India after the 1857 Revolt.
- In 1896, the dreaded disease of plague had struck Pune and by early 1897, the disease had spread critically. In February 1897 alone, there were 657 deaths reportedly due to plague. About half of the city’s population had left it.
- The government set up a Special Plague Committee in March that year to handle the menace and control the spread of the disease. It was chaired by an Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer W. C. Rand.
- Even though the government had given explicit orders that the religious sentiments of the people should be taken care of while inspecting and taking adequate measures, and that the people should be especially informed about the good intentions of taking the various strict measures, the commission under Rand paid scant regard to the directions.
- The commission appointed more than 800 officers and soldiers on duty in Pune rather than employing doctors for the job of implementing the measures. The measures included entry into houses forcefully, examination of its occupants including women, taking them to segregation camps and preventing people affected with plague from leaving or entering Pune.
- There were reports that troops indulged in vandalising personal property including religious symbols in the name of controlling the epidemic.
- People were denied permission to conduct the funerals of their loved ones unless the deaths were registered. If plague was the cause of death, the dead had to be cremated in special grounds designated by the government.
- People who broke these regulations were subjected to criminal action.
- Gopal Krishna Gokhale stated that he had reliable reports which said that two women were raped by British soldiers in the pretext of controlling the disease. He claimed that the soldiers were ‘let loose on the town’. Rand denied that there were any cases of women being molested by soldiers.
- The high-handedness of the British authorities in dealing with the epidemic led to a lot of frustrations and anti-government sentiments among the people.
- Bal Gangadhar Tilak wrote, “Her Majesty the Queen, the Secretary of State and his Council, should not have issued the orders for practising tyranny upon the people of India without any special advantage to be gained.”
- The Chapekar brothers Damodar Hari, Balkrishna Hari and Vasudeo Hari planned to assassinate Rand against whom there was a lot of hatred among the local population.
- On 22nd June 1897, the British monarch Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations were being held at Pune. The brothers expected all government officers to arrive for the function.
- Carrying weapons with them, Damodar, the eldest and Balkrishna waited for Rand’s carriage to pass by a selected spot on Ganeshkhind Road. Balkrishna shot at Rand and wounded him. Rand’s military escort Lt. Ayerst was also shot at. Ayerst died on the spot while Rand was admitted to a hospital where he died on 3rd
- Damodar was arrested after being informed on by the Dravid brothers. In his statement, he said that he wanted to take revenge for the atrocities committed by British soldiers like the pollution of holy places and the desecration of idols. He was tried and hanged on 18th April 1898.
- Balkrishna avoided arrest till 1899 when he was caught and tried by the police. He was hanged on 12th May 1899.
- The third brother Vasudeo and his friends Khando Vishnu Sathe and Mahadev Vinayak Ranade killed the police informants, the Dravid brothers. Vasudeo was hanged on 8th May 1899. Ranade was hanged on 10th May and Sathe, a juvenile, was sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.