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How India is marking a century of the Chauri Chaura violence

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday will flag off a year-long commemoration of Chauri Chaura incident in 1922, where protestors clashed violently with the police

Preparations for the inauguration of the centenary celebrations at the Shaheed Smarak Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur on 3 February (PTI)

Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will on Thursday inaugurate a year-long commemoration of the Chauri Chaura incident, an outbreak of violence a century back, which led M.K. Gandhi to halt his non-cooperation movement against the British.

Modi will release a postage stamp through video conference to mark the beginning of the centenary of that episode. At Thursday’s event, 99 people, descendants of those involved in the historic 1922 incident of India's independence movement will be honoured.

It all began on 2 February 1922, when volunteers gathered in the local market of the village of Chauri Chaura to protest against rising food prices. Although this was a peaceful assembly, the police retaliated by arresting Bhagwan Ahir, a leader of the group, along with several others.

On 4 February, matters came to a head when a large number of people went to the police station to demand the release of those detained. Initially shots were fired into the air to disperse the crowds, which was soon followed by open firing at the people.

Mayhem broke out, as the followers of Gandhi's peaceful non-cooperation movement became enraged by the police killing three of them. The crowd set ablaze the Chauri Chaura post, where the outnumbered policemen had sought refuge after retracting under pressure. Twenty-three policemen were killed that day. After hearing about the violence, a disappointed Gandhi withdrew the non-cooperation movement on 12 February.

The killing of the Chauri Chaura policemen had resulted in arrests of hundreds of protesters, with 228 of them being put on trial. Six of them died during the trial and 172 were ordered to be hanged to death. The remaining were sentenced to long-term imprisonment after a hasty eight-month trial. Reviewing the death sentences, the Allahabad High Court in April 1923 confirmed it for 19 convicts, sentenced 110 to life imprisonment in Kalapani (Port Blair). Others got long jail terms.

For years since, the people of Chauri Chaura have been locked in a heated conflict between the question of who the true martyrs of the 1922 incident were. The debate has not been settled even after building two monuments—one to honour the police (at the site of the former chowki), the other to pay homage to the satyagrahis, in the form of the Shaheed Smarak in the town centre.

Finally, those chosen to be honoured on the centenary of the event include 72-year-old Kamla Prasad of Dumri Khurd, a grandson of Chinugi, who got the "Kalapani punishment". “I am happy that we are getting the honour and the country will know us...,” said an elated Kamla Prasad.

On the occasion, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath may also announce the change in name of Mundera Bazar Nagar Panchayat, the area where the police post then existed, to Chauri Chaura Nagar Panchayat, said an official. Gorakhpur District Magistrate Vijyendra Pandiyan said the district administration has already sent a proposal to the government for the name change of the area.

"The year-long commemoration of the Chauri Chaura incident’s centenary will begin in all 75 districts of the state with 'Prabhat Pheris' and other programmes from 4 February and will continue till 4 February 2022," an official said. Besides the beautification of Chauri Chaura Shaheed Sthal in Gorakhpur, the area is also being developed as a tourist spot on the lines of India Gate, Jallianwala Bagh and Cellular Jail in Andaman, a senior official said.

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