Patriots > The Revolutionaries > Chapekar Brothers
Damodar (1870-1897) ,Balkrishna (1873 -1899) ,Wasudeo(1879-1899)

On 29 July 1897 the Government of Bombay sent a report to the Secretary of State on the murder of their special officer on plague duty at Poona, Mr. Rand: “The most generally accepted theory so far is that Rand was selected as the target of the crime due to the desire for revenge for supposed wrongs inflicted in the course of plague operations at Poona”. But it did not fail to add that “with the motive was probably coupled a wish to create a startling political sensation in harmony with the aims of the chief political agitators.

It was inspired by the peculiarly violent writing of the Poona papers regarding plague administration; others see in the choice of time and place a political plot emanating from a section of the Poona Brahmins who have for some years past set themselves to embarrass the Government and are believed to have been engaged in exciting disaffection throughout the Presidency”. As suspected by the Government, the motive for the act was a mixed one. The Chapekar brothers had nothing personal against the plague officer; to them he was the embodiment of foreign rule that was trampling under heel some of the cherished beliefs and customs of the Indian people, and he had to go.

The Chapekars are Chitpavan Brahmins coming from Konkan. The family came over to the Desh country and settled at Chinchawad near Poona where the three brothers, Damodar, Balkrishna and Wasudeo, were born about 1870, 1873 and 1879 respectively. The father Haripant followed the priestly profession repeating Kirtans or mythological stores in prose and verse at different houses, in Poona and Bombay.

The sons did not receive much formal education, they learnt reading and writing and began helping their father in his Kirtans as they grew. Their profession insisted on the performance of the daily Brahmanical rites, and in the general atmosphere of orthodoxy of Poona the brothers developed a strong conservative attitude, intolerant of the social reform movement.

As the Chapekars grew, Poona became the storm-centre of several controversies over the Age of Consent Bill, the Sharadashram of Pandita Ramabai, a Christian convert, and the Hindu-Muslim riots. The Kesar and other local papers were championing the cause of orthodoxy, and in this atmosphere the Chapekars began to feel that a deliberate attempt was being made to humiliate their religion by the reformers and Muslims, at the instigation of the British government. They felt they had to do something for their faith.

They organized an association for physical and military training which they called “the society for the removal of obstacles to the Hindu Religion”. Their activities took the form of attacking leading social reformers in the dark, putting tar on the Queen’s statue near the Esplanade in Bombay and burning the examination pandal. They became active members of the Ganapati melas the lustily sang songs praising Shivaji for “his daring deeds and exhorting the audience

to risk their life on the battlefield in a national war to shed upon the earth the lifeblood of the enemies who destroyed their religion”.

About the end of 1896 plague assumed an epidemic form in Bombay presidency and the British mercantile community panicked lest it might reach the shores of the British isles and affect their commerce. The government of India was asked to pursue strong measures to stamp out the epidemic. A law was passed and special officers were appointed in plague-affected areas to fight the disease. Rand was posted to the city of Poona in February 1897 and lost no time in establishing a plague hospital and segregation or quarantine camps and starting a campaign to disinfect the affected localities.

British soldiers were used to implement the programme strictly. This caused no little harassment to the public when their houses were searched, their family worship-places desecrated, their household goods scattered or destroyed and their womenfolk very roughly handled. The plague officer Rand showed little deference for public opinion and his high-handed conduct came in for strong criticism from the local press. The Kesar and other papers asked the people not to suffer quietly the oppression of Rand’s rule. The Chapekars could not remain immune to the propagandas. In revenge they determined to kill Rand, the chief source of all the harassment.

They procured weapons and watched Rand’s movements for a few days. On 22 June 1897 there were celebrations at the Government House in Ganesh Khind on account of the Queen’s diamond jubilee. Fireworks were let off from the nearby hills which attracted large crowds from the city in which the Chapekars easily mingled. As Rand’s carriage came out of the Government House at midnight, Damodar jumped on the back seat and fired his gun at Rand at point-blank range.

The officer collapsed immediately, as also Lt. Ayerst who was in the carriage in front and who was fired upon by his brother Balkrishna. In October, the police, working on information received from one Dravid, arrested Damodar in Bombay. By threat and cajoling they obtained his confession bringing out his part in the murder and put him on trial in February 1898. The sentence of death was confirmed by the High Court and Damodar died on the gallows on 18 April 1898,

Balkrishna, who had escaped in Nizam’s territory, was traced. He made a voluntary confession, was found guilty and was hanged on 12 May 1899.

In the meanwhile the third brother Wasudeo came to know of the treachery of Ganesh Shankar Dravid and gunned him in the evening of 9 February 1899. After a short trial he was sentenced to death and was hanged on 8 May. All the three brothers felt they were dying for a lofty cause and showed no signs of fear or remorse when mounting the gallows. They were all married but left no issues.

Author : V. G. Dighe