Lala Lajapat Rai Essay

Lala Lajpat Rai (28 January 1865 – 17 November 1928) was an Indian author and politician who is chiefly remembered as a leader in the Indian fight for independence from the British Raj. He was popularly known as Punjab Kesari (Punjabi:The Lion of Punjab) or Sher-e-Punjab (Urdu:The Lion of Punjab) meaning the same and was part of the Lal Bal Pal trio. He was also associated with activities of Punjab National Bank and Lakshmi Insurance Company in their early stages.

He ustained serious injuries by the police when leading a non-violent protest against the Simon Commission and died less than three weeks later. His death anniversary (November 17) is one of several days celebrated as Martyrs’ Day in India. Lala Lajpat Rai was born in Dhudike (now in Moga district, Punjab) on 28 January 1865. His grandfather was a Svetambara Jain while his father had great respect for Islam, and he even fasted and prayed like Muslims, but did not embrace Islam largely due to his family’s attachment to the Hindu faith.

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Rai had his initial education in Government Higher Secondary School, Rewari (now in Haryana, previously in Punjab), in the late 1870s and early 1880s, where his father, Radha Krishan, was an Urdu teacher. Rai was influenced by Hinduism and Manusmriti and created a career of reforming Indian policy through politics and writing. (When studying law in Lahore, he continued to practice Hinduism. He became a large believer in the idea that Hinduism, above nationality, was the pivotal point upon which an Indian lifestyle must be based. Hinduism, he believed, led to practices of peace to humanity, and the idea that when nationalist ideas were added to this peaceful belief system, a non-secular nation could be formed. His involvement with Hindu Mahasabha leaders gathered criticism from the Bharat Sabha as the Mahasabhas were non-secular, which did not conform with the system laid out by the Indian National Congress. This focus on Hindu practices in the subcontinent would ultimately lead him to the continuation of peaceful movements to create successful demonstrations for Indian independence.

He was a devotee of Arya Samaj and was editor of Arya Gazette, which he set up during his student time. He founded the National College, inside the Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore to impart quality education to the Indians, who did not want to join British institutions. Graduates of the National College included Bhagat Singh. He was elected President of the Congress party in the Calcutta Special Session of 1920. Rai traveled to the US in 1907, and then returned during World War I.

He toured Sikh communities along the US West Coast; visited Tuskegee University in Alabama; and met with workers in the Philippines. His travelogue, The United States of America (1916), details these travels and features extensive quotations from leading African American intellectuals, including W. E. B. DuBois and Fredrick Douglass. The book also argues for the notion of “color-caste,” suggesting a sociological similarities between race in the US and caste in India. The term comes from sociological work done at Columbia University during the 1910s.

During World War I, Lajpat Rai lived in the United States, but he returned to India in 1919 and in the following year led the special session of the Congress Party that launched the noncooperation movement. Imprisoned from 1921 to 1923, he was elected to the legislative assembly on his release. On 30 October 1928, Lajpat Rai led a silent non-violent procession with Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya to protest against the Simon Commission at Lahore, but the police responded with a violent lathi charge.

During this procession, Rai became the target of the lathi charge (a form of crowd control in which the police use heavy staves or ‘lathis’ in Hindi) led by British police. Lala Lajpat Rai was beaten with lathis at the chest. He was grievously injured and later succumbed to his injuries. Bhagat Singh, who was an eyewitness to this event, claimed that it was this act that caused him to ‘vow to take revenge’ against the culprits of this violence.

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