75 years on, historians still confused about the impact of Chauri Chaura
Did the violence at Chauri Chaura betray
Gandhi or did the Mahatma err in assessing the incident
is a question that still haunts students of history 75 years
after the event.
As many as 22 policemen were burnt alive by a rampaging mob after
the police fired on a procession of satyagrahis in Chauri Chaura
near Gorakhpur on February 4,1922.
In the aftermath of Chauri Chaura, the British police unleashed a
reign of terror in the area and 172 satyagrahis were sentenced to
death in connection with the incidents by the Gorakhpur sessions court.
Finally 19 people were hanged, after their plea was rejected by the
Allahabad high court.
The Chauri Chaura Smarak Samiti, an organisation of local villagers and
political activists, is planning to organise various functions
during the 75th anniversary of the incident.
Shahid Amin, a scholar who authored a book Chauri Chaura
1922--92, says it is unfortunate that Chauri Chaura still remains
on the margin of authentic history writing. The facts
about this upsurge, he says, are yet to be fully compiled and analysed.
Mahatma Gandhi was shaken by the violence of Chauri Chaura and
abruptly called off the non-co-operation movement in 1922 when
the movement was at its peak. Chauri Chaura, he said, was a
'divine warning' that the masses were not yet prepared for
launching a non-violent struggle to gain freedom for the country.
For the Mahatma's critics, the suspension of the
movement was a 'Himalayan mistake' at a crucial juncture of
the freedom struggle when they felt Swaraj was only 'one inch away'.
Gandhi's article in Young India (16-2-1922), 'The crime of Chauri
Chaura' had also evoked sharp reactions.
His memoirs revealed that he was somewhat confused about
the eventual impact of Chauri Chaura.
In March 1922, he wrote to Mahadev Desai, 'take it from me that
Chauri Chaura has saved us from a conflagration and has brought
Swaraj miles nearer.' He interpreted the event
differently in 1930: 'if the march of nonviolence had not been
interrupted by the events in Chauri Chaura, I make bold to say that
we would have been today in full possession of Swaraj.'
Gandhi defended his decision to call off the non-
co-operation movement while fully realising that the decision had
demoralised the masses who wanted to get rid of British rule
quickly. It pained the Mahatma when his critics accused him
of cowardice in the face of brutal State power. As he wrote
in Navjeevan in 1928, 'until this date I have felt that I have
served the country by calling off the non-co-operation movement. I am
confident that history will look upon it as a form of perfect
satyagraha and not as an act of cowardice.'