A brilliant poet, author, ideologue, and the architect behind the infamous Kakori Train Robbery, Ramprasad Bismil was born on 11th June 1897 in a simple family in the Shahjahanpur district of present-day Uttar Pradesh. His ancestors had migrated from the Bundelkhand region of the erstwhile Gwalior state due to their economic conditions and family feuds. Young Bismil was taught Hindi by his father and was sent to a local Maulvi to learn Urdu. Even though Bismil’s father wanted him to pursue his higher education and take up a job, he was against the concept of giving his son an English medium education. Bismil writes in his autobiography that it was his mother who persuaded his father to allow him to pursue his higher education in English.
At a very young age, Bismil was drawn to the teachings of the Arya Samaj. He became a staunch follower of this movement, and his beliefs were so strong that he even left home after his father objected to his membership in the Samaj. Bismil joined the Arya Samaj Youth Association and began spreading the teachings of Swami Dayanand. In the course of his activities, Ramprasad came in contact with Swami Somdev, who played a prominent role in his life. Swamiji introduced him to political and nationalist literature, which was instrumental in making him an activist.
Much of the revolutionary activities undertaken by Bismil and his group aimed at collecting weapons and ensuring the flow of nationalist literature. Bismil was a prolific writer and wrote patriotic poems in Urdu and Hindi under various pen names: ‘Bismil’, ‘Ram’, and ‘Agyat’. He was involved in the Mainpuri Conspiracy of 1918, wherein the police found a few young people, including Bismil selling books that were proscribed by the government. While the British clamped down on the activists involved in the Mainpuri Conspiracy Case, Bismil managed to escape and go underground.
At the end of World War I, the British government issued a general pardon for every political prisoner. All the accused in the Mainpuri Conspiracy Case were freed, and Bismil finally came out of hiding and went to Shahjahanpur to begin a small business. However, the revolutionary spirit in him could not cope with the banality of everyday life, and he began to re-organize the revolutionary organization. In doing so, Bismil came in contact with Sachindranath Sanyal, who was earlier imprisoned for the failed Ghadar Conspiracy of 1914 and later freed after the general amnesty.
Sanyal, Bismil, Ashfaqullah, and Chatterjee came together to found the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in 1924, that later came to be known as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). The objective of the HSRA was to fight against British colonial rule in India and achieve independence for the country through an armed rebellion if necessary. Bismil was the mastermind behind the infamous Kakori Conspiracy Case, where they looted a train carrying government money, as they needed the funds to support their activities. Many of those involved were arrested. While in prison, Bismil and his associates launched a hunger strike to protest against the jail conditions and also demand political prisoner status for them. It is from the Gorakhpur Central Jail that Bismil wrote his autobiography, which apparently was smuggled out by Shiv Verma and later published by Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi. It is said that Bismil completed it just a couple of days before his execution.
In a sham trial, Bismil and his associates were found guilty of waging war against the British empire. They were given the death sentence and hanged on 19th December 1927. Lahiri was however hanged two days prior on the 17th of December.
Post his death, Bismil’s poem ‘Sarfroshi Ki Tammana, Ab hamare Dil Me hai’ became a clarion call for the Indian Freedom movement. He is remembered today for his revolutionary spirit and literary legacy.