HEMU KALANI : THE BHAGAT SINGH OF SINDH
Young at age, Big with deeds
Hemu Kalani is a name spoken about with great respect by every Sindhi anywhere in the world. Christened amongst the great sons of Sindh, his contribution to Indian Independence is invaluable. The day of 23rd January 1943 has been written in the annals of our freedom struggle history in golden words. A young boy of nineteen attained martyrdom with his head held high. This little lad spelled terror in the British reigns with his passionate involvement in the Indian freedom struggle.
In the last few years of the Indian Freedom struggle, he rose to become an epitome and was a role model for men twice his age. Hemu Kalani, whom the Sindhis out of fondness and respect address as the Bhagat Singh of Sindh was a mere school boy when he was sent to the gallows by an insensitive and cruel Martial Law administrator. A true martyr, a hero who raised the hopes of an entire nation with his single act of valour. That in a single line was the great Hemu Kalani.
Belonging to a middle class family residing at Sukkur, Hemu was born to the Kalani family on the 23rd of March 1924 at Old Sukkur. The eldest son of Shri Pessumal Kalani and Smt. Jethibai Kalani, Hemu acquired his primary education at old Sukkur and higher education at the famous Tilak High School of Sukkur. His father was a physician and a true son of the soil himself, but it was his uncle, the late Dr. Mangharam Kalani, a prominent congress leader and a veteran freedom fighter whose activities left a huge impression on the little lad.
It was the time of National Uprising when Gandhiji declared the Quit India Movement in the year 1942. Inspired by his uncle, Hemu Kalani who was highly influenced by the movement joined the Swaraj Sena, a revolutionary organisation and became its leading member. This outfit in one of its secret meetings created a ‘Revolutionary Command’ to undertake some drastic revolutionary deeds for removing the shackles of slavery on Mother India. Seldom would people of his age even think of doing something for the nation, but here was a student on the verge of appearing for his matriculation exam, fanatic to the cause of driving the British away from Indian soil.
On the second day of October in 1942, the revolutionary group Swaraj Sena received secret information that a train carrying military personnel and hardware was to proceed between Quetta and Rohri to quell the political uprising in North-West Frontier province where ‘Khudai Khidmatgars’ under the leadership of Frontier Gandhi had created virtual hell for the British Empire. Fanatic to the cause of Indian Independence, Hemu Kalani resolved to not let the ammunition reach its destination and decided to derail the train. He called an urgent meeting of his Revolutionary Group where it was decided that he along with two companions would remove the fishplates and thereby derail this train near Sukkur. Unfortunately for the trio, the noise created by their operation didn’t miss the ears of the guards stationed in the area. On hearing the heavy footsteps of the guards, his two accomplices fled, but the bold boy allowed himself to fall into the arms of the armed men.
Hemu underwent third degree torture from the British to reveal the names of his accomplices and the organization to which he belonged, but he never divulged and bravely bore the brunt of the assault. He took the entire blame upon himself and stated to the authorities that if they believed their acts of soiling the freedom struggle with arms and ammunitions was correct, then his intended act of derailing the train was also justified.
At that time Sindh was under Martial Law and his case was referred to a Martial Law Court at Hyderabad / Sukkur, where the authorities tried little Hemu for treason against the British Empire and sentenced him to life imprisonment. But as the authorities realized the immense popularity that this brave boy had acquired across the region and fearing that this little boy’s act of bravery would have a huge influence on the minds of the Indians, they decided to set an apt example to extinguish the expected flurry of patriotic emotions and enhance the verdict from Life Imprisonment to Death Sentence. Tekchand Kalani, brother of Hemu Kalani recalls, “My father went to all the leading British men and begged for clemency. He even volunteered to be hanged himself in exchange for the life of his young son.” An appeal for mercy was referred to the Martial Law Administrator Colonel Richardson by some of the most influential men of Sindh. Thousands of signed petitions were sent to the Viceroy to retrace the enhanced death sentence. Unfortunately, all appeals fell to the deaf ears of the Martial Law Administrator and were mercilessly turned down.
While his parents and admirers ran from pillar to post, trying desperately to have his sentence altered, Hemu himself was a picture of calm and composure, unflustered by the prospect of losing his life, joyfully waiting for the D-Day, when his name would be inscribed in the golden pages of history. He breathed his last with a smile on his face, and the slogans ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ on his lips. It is widely believed that when the authorities asked Hemu for his customary last wish, this passionate patriot, before having the noosed tied around his neck, wished that everyone around him, including the British authorities raise national slogans. A true martyr, indeed! On the 23rd of January 1943, his mortal remains were consigned to flames on the banks of the Indus with all due honour, and the day is celebrated as Sindhi Youth day and Martyrdom day by the Sindhis every year to keep his memory alive and to inspire the youth of today.