Friday, 16 February 2018

Murder of W.C Rand ICS British India official, Pune 1897

Martyrs, Chapekar-brothers, MaharastrAsia Observer
Statue of Chaphekar Brother's At Chinchwad,en.wikipedia. org
During the early colonial rule under the East India company and later under the Raj after 1857, countless men an women laid their lives to free India from the oppressive and unjust British rule that rendered India, once a rich nation with GDP more than 23 in the 1600s, a poor nation in August 1947 - when the British left the Indian shores. The entire nation owes a debt of gratitude to these freedom fighters who scarified their lives so that the later generation could breathe the  fresh air and enjoy full freedom without any obstacles. Among them there are many unsung heroes who are unknown across India. The Chapekars brothers - three of them hailing from Maharastra belong to this category. In south India, in particular, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, if you mention their names, the people and also school children will blink their eyes and their answer will never come in affirmative. The assassination of high rank British officials in Pune may be worthy of interest to those who are not familiar with  the Chapekars three brothers, who were freedom fighters.    

Towards  the end of 1896, plague  became  an epidemic in Bombay presidency and it affected the people of Bombay  and near by Pune cities. Since the Plague endemic became a menace and began to spread like the summer bush-fire, the then British Raj took serious efforts on a war footing to check the spread of this dreaded disease. The Governor of Bombay instituted "The Plague Committee" under the chairmanship of W.C. Rand an ICS officer, trained in administrative work in a special institution in London  meant for the administrative work in India.  Rand was posted as a Special Officer to take care of Pune, its suburb and the cantonment area. The Governor's order was that steps should be taken seriously with out affecting the sentiments or the religious practices of the Hindu and Muslim communities within the Jurisdiction of Pune city. Governor's order assured the people that female members of the communities would be examined by the women members only.

On 12 March 1897, officers and men – both British and native assumed duty under the command Major Paget of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI). As part of their duty they had to visit nook and corner of the city and take the needed steps to put down the spread of the epidemic. In reality, what they did was just opposite of Governor's orders; they sent the male members in certain places. Their inhuman action included: gate-crashing  into private houses, examination of occupants, compulsory stripping of women by males, forced evacuation to hospitals and segregation camps, removing and destroying personal possessions including idols, restrictions on moving out of the city, conducting funeral in marked cremation spots if  death caused by plague,etc. Besides, if the orders are breached the subjects will be liable for prosecution. 

On 19 May 1897, The Committee completed the report on Pune Plague. W.C. Rand in his report to the Governor mentioned that  the total estimated plague mortality was 2091 and further stated:  "It is a matter of great satisfaction to the members of the Plague Committee that no credible complaint that the modesty of a woman had been intentionally insulted was made either to themselves or to the officers under whom the troops worked".

Prior to the presentation of the report  lots of prominent people sent complaints to Rand about the barbaric act by the troops. They fell on the deaf ears of Rand, no action was taken. A distorted report on Poona Plague was prepared. The report contained blatant lies - simply travesty of truth. The truth is the modesty of Hindu women was outraged in public view in the name of controlling the epidemic. There were  reports that two Indian women were raped and one of them committed suicide. It is said blasphemous acts like discarding of Hindu idols in the Puja room and other valuable possessions was done with impunity. The entire Hindu community of Puna was outraged and the accusing fingers were pointed toward Rand. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, wrote to Her Majesty the Queen:   "..............The government should not have entrusted the execution of this order to a suspicious, sullen and tyrannical officer like Rand". In the meantime there were denials and carping comments on the non-cooperation of the community, etc.

The Chapekars brothers, Damodar, Balkrishna and Wasudeo  who settled settled at Chinchawad near Pune from an early age were men of patriotic disposition.  Being staunch Hindus they were quite upset  over the way the religion was subject to humiliation and criticism in the name of reformation. They blamed the British  and their scant respect for the religious  sentiments of the Indian people.  They formed an organization called “the society for the removal of obstacles to the Hindu Religion” under which they imparted military training to  certain people to guard the religion.  The Chapekar brothers had long been watching the British Sahibs and their actions ; disappointment  was writ on their face over their discriminatory attitude towards Indian natives.

In March 1897, the troops' (DLF) under the command Major Paget) drew the curious attention of the Cpapekar brothers  and they became embittered. No sane military troops in the name of plague control would stoop to such a low level and strip the women's clothes in public view and assault their modesty.  For this maniac act by the DLF, they held the peevish and indignant Rand responsible. The brothers got to-gather and decided to do away with Rand at any cost. They also chalked out a plan to kill him publicly with meticulous care. 

An opportunity was offered to them on a silver platter.  According to his autobiography by  Damodar Hari, the brothers preferred the Diamond Jubilee of the coronation of Queen Victoria  in Pune that fell on  22 June 1897.Reason: Damodar Hari believed a lot of Europeans including officials of different ranks would  turn up at the Government House  for the jubilee celebrations; a suitable chance to  kill Rand. The brothers Damodar Hari and Balkrishna Hari selected a spot of Ganeshkhind road (now called Senapati Bapat Road), by side of a yellow bungalow. The vantage spot would give them the needed view  to shoot at Rand. Each of the brothers carried  a sword and a pistol. Balkrishna's kit included  a hatchet as well. They reached Ganeshkhind,  and when they reached  the Government House at 7.00 – 7.30 in the evening, the darkness had already set in.  At the Government House, it was a grand celebration with some interesting events. The security  were not suspicious of their movements with swards and hatchets carried by them; they hid them  for use later under a stone culvert near the bungalow. As finalized by the brothers , Damodar Hari waited at the gate of the Government House, and when Rand's carriage emerged, ran 10 – 15 paces behind it.  When  the carriage reached the yellow bungalow, Damodar made a pre-determined signal  "Gondya ala re"for Balkrishna to take action.The plan was Damodar  would join him soon and both of them would shoot  at Rand to ensure of his death.  Damodar Hari opened  the flap of the carriage, raised it and took a shot. Thing did go as had planned before because Balkrishna Hari lagged behind and Rand's carriage kept going.  Balkrishna Hari became suspicious of the  occupants in the following carriage. Immediately he fired at the  the back head of Lieut. Ayerst, Rand's military escort. Ayerst who was in the  second carriage died on the spot.   As for Rand, he died in the David   Sassoon Hospital on 3 July 1897. Two British officials of high rank  were assassinated  on the same day by the Indian natives for their injustice done to the sentiments of the Indian people. 

Based on information given by the Dravid brothers, Damoder Hari was arrested for the murder of British official.  In his statement, recorded on 8 October 1897, Damodar Hari told the revenge was taken  for the DLF atrocities such as breaking of idols, excess on Indian women, mockery of Indian practices, etc., committed  during search operation to control plague. His statement was good enough foryhe prosecution to move the case  and he was charged under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.  He was hanged to death  on 18 April 1898. Balkrishna Hari, who was at large, was finally betrayed by his friend and was caught in January 1899, The betrayers - Dravid brothers were killed by another brother Vasudeo Hari.  Mahadev Vinayak Ranade and Khando Vishnu Sathe, were arrested  for having shot to death chief constable Rama Pandu later on the same evening of 9 February 1899. The  Chaphekar brothers Balkrishna Hari, Vasudeo Hari, and Ranade, in a trial court, Pune were sentenced to death by hanging; Vasudev Hari: 8 May 1899, Mahadeva Vinayak Ranade: 10 May 1899, Balkrishna Hari :12 May 1899. With respect to Sathe, a juvenile, he was awarded  10 years Rigorous Imprisonment. 

This sensational assassination in  colonial India under the direct Crown administration  drew the attention of the world media  and tacitly showed the darker side of the oppressive and dictatorial rule. Across the Globe, it dented the British image and their continued misrule and exploitation in India and was no way different from the misrule under the East India company rule. 

Gokhale, a patriot and freedom fighter remarked, while on a visit to Britain, that British soldiers "let loose on the town" of Pune were ignorant of Indians' language, customs, and sentiments. Moreover, he claimed – in marked contradiction to Rand's above-quoted statement – to be in possession of reliable reports regarding the rape of two women, one of whom committed suicide rather than live with shame.


01. Damodar Chapekar  was a lawyer by profession and the British Army stationed in Shimla refused to enlist him. He was quite upset about this incident.  Deccani is Damodar's last name and refers to him as such  (The New York Times, dated 4 October 1897).

02. Subsequent trial  mentioned that Damodar was from the Brahmin caste (New York Times dated 4 November 1897).

03. Both articles also gave the information that he was the one who tarred Queen Victoria's statue.