Ashfaqulla Khan was one of the greatest martyrs who laid down their lives for the emancipation of the country. By his unique sacrifice, Ashfaqulla Khan became an immortal revolutionary.
Born in the early part of the 20th century in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Ashfaqulla Khan was the son of Shafiqulla Khan. In 1921, Mahatma Gandhi had called on Indians not to pay taxes to the government or cooperate with the British. This non-cooperation movement kindled the fire of freedom in the hearts of all Indians. However, Chauri Chaura violence which resulted into setting ablaze of a police station and death of some policemen, Mahatma Gandhi called off the non-cooperation movement in February, 1922. The youth of the country were greatly disappointed and they resolved that the country should become free as early as possible. Ashfqulla Khan joined the band of such revolutionaries. Ramaprasad Bismil who also hailed from Shahjahanpur was the leader of the militant group of these revolutionaries. Ashfaqulla Khan cultivated friendship with Ramaprasad Bismil. Ramaprasad was a Aryasamajist whereas Ashfaqulla Khan was a devout Muslim. Their religion however, did not come in the way of their firm resolve to join together for the freedom struggle.
The two became bosom friends. So much so that they moved together, ate together and worked together. An incident in this connection is worth mentioning. Once Ashfaq had severe fever and under the very high temperature he was muttering Ram, my dear Ram. Ashfaq’s parents got perturbed and thought Ashfaq had been overpowered by some evil spirit since he was uttering the name of Ram, the Lord of Hindus. They called their neighbour. The neighbour assured them explaining that Ashfaq was remembering Ram Prasad Bismil, his friend whom he is in the habit of addressing as Ram. Bismal was called. Asfaq’s muttering came to a stop and both embraced each other.
Varanasi was the centre of their activities. They formed the Hindustan Republican Association. Shachindra Nath Sanyal was the founder of this organisation. Their objective was to win freedom for the country through armed revolution. The association published a manifesto called Krantikari in 1925 advocating the elimination of inequality and slavery. For the purpose of carrying out the revolution, they needed money. The famous Kakori train robbery was conceived with the objective of getting money for carrying out their revolutionary activities. The train robbery was conceived by Ramaprasad. While travelling from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow, he noticed moneybags being taken into the guard’s van and being dropped into an iron safe. Ashfaq opposed the idea saying that it would be a hasty step and will expose the revolutionaries to direct attack by strong government who will use the entire machinery to crush the revolutionary activities. However, the revolutionaries decided to go ahead with the plan. Like a disciplined soldier, Ashfaq vowed to join.
On August 9, 1925, the train from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow was approaching Kakori. Some one pulled the chain and the train stopped abruptly. Ashfaq got off the second class compartment with his friends Sachindra Bakshi and Rajendra Lahiri. The two revolutionaries fell on the guard and made him lie down on his face. Ashfaq was the strongest of the group. He entered the guard’s van and pushed the bags containing money to the ground. He dealt blows after blows on the opening of the box to widen it and to take the moneybags out. The group consisting of ten young revolutionaries took the money and fled. Till about a month, none of the revolutionaries was arrested. But the government had spread a big net.
On 26th September 1925 Ramaprasad Bismil was arrested. Ashfaq escaped from his home and hid in a sugarcane field. Later, he managed to reach Kashi and stayed for some time in Banaras University. With the help of his friends he went to Bihar and got a job as a clerk in an engineering firm at Daltonganj. Later, he went to Delhi with a plan to go abroad. In Delhi, he met a Pathan friend who also hailed from Shahjahanpur and was a classmate of Ashfaq. Falling for greed of money which the British Government had announced on Ashfaq’s head, the Pathan sounded the police and next morning Ashfaq was arrested. The police charge sheeted him in the court.
During the Court proceedings the Superintendent of Police who was a Muslim went to Ashfaq’s jail room and tried to break him from the revolutionaries. The S.P. said: "Ashfaq, I am also Muslim. I am very sorry for your arrest. I can have you released if you accept my advice. You become Government approver and give testimony against Ram Prasad Bismil. He is a Hindu and wants to establish the rule of Hindus. You should not be with him". Ashfaq got enraged to hear the words of the Muslim S.P. and retorted. "I warn you, never utter such unholy words from your mouth. Ram Prasad is my brother. I would rather die under the rule of Hindus than to live under the British rule".
A committee consisting of eminent lawyers like Moti Lal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sriprakasha, Acharya Narendra Dev, Govind Ballabh Pant and Chandra Bhanu Gupta was formed to defend the revolutionaries in the Kakori train robbery case. Their effort to save the revolutionaries, however, failed in the court of justice under the British rule, which sentenced to death Ramaprasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Rajendra Lahiri and Roshan Singh. The others were given life sentences.
The whole country protested against the death sentences. Petitions were made to the Viceroy to reduce their death sentence into life sentences. Even the Privy Council was approached. The British imperialism was however, thirsting for the blood of the Indian revolutionaries.
On 19th December 1927, Ashfaqulla Khan was hanged to death at district jail, Faizabad. When Ashfaq was brought to gallows he said, "My hands are not soiled with the murder of man, God will give me justice. He then prayed to the almighty and went down the plank on which he stood after the hangman’s noose came around his neck.
Ashfaq’s devotion to the cause of freedom made him the foremost among those who gave their lives to win the freedom of the country. Love for the motherland, clear thinking, courage, firmness and loyalty were embodied in Ashfaq to the hilt. He deserves to be remembered and cherished by all Indians for his noble qualities.