A freedom fighter lost in the pages of history

Published: January 21, 2013
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Just 18 years old when he was caught red-handed, imprisoned and tortured for attempting to loosen the fixings of the railway track .

Just 18 years old when he was caught red-handed, imprisoned and tortured for attempting to loosen the fixings of the railway track .

KARACHI: 

Seventy years ago this day, a forgotten freedom fighter was hanged in Sukkur Jail (now Central Jail Sukkur 2) under the British Raj.

Hemu Kalani, originally from Sukkur, was given the option of relaxing his sentence for a simple written apology — but he remained steadfast and unapologetic.

His valour still echoes in the pages of history, his determination, many say, knew no bounds.

Just 18 years old when he was caught red-handed, imprisoned and tortured for attempting to loosen the fixings of the railway track in his hometown in a bid to derail the train which was carrying special troops of the European battalions.

Young Kalani was informed on October 23, 1942 that a train was carrying weapons which would be used against freedom fighters in Sindh. He along with friends decided that the train will not be allowed to go ahead.

Perhaps lost in history, it is still unclear who caught him.

But according to writer Dr Amir Abbas Soomro, a security guard of a biscuit factory near the track caught him and handed him over to the police (information the writer says he gathered from Kalani’s younger brother Tekchand).

Accounts of his story reveal that Kalani asked his friends to run away before being caught by authorities and never disclosed their names despite being tortured mercilessly.

His case was being heard in a Martial Court and his lawyers, Pirzado Abdul Sattar, failed to prove him innocent before the British Raj.

Sattar made an offer to Kalani’s paternal uncle, Dr Manga Ram: If Kalani could sign a written apology, the British would relax his death sentence but Kalani simply refused.

Upon hearing the news his mother, Jethi Bai, rushed to the Sukkur jail and begged her son to accept the terms of the apology.

Kalani refused to apologise for saving his land.

Today, 70 years on it seems the hero of Sindh has been lost in translation.

While India pays homage and celebrates his death anniversary as a sign of resilience, very few are aware of his sacrifices here except a few nationalist parties who take him as a hero.

A post stamp of Kalani’s name was issued by former Indian premier Indira Gandhi in 1983 and several roads, schools and parks have been named after him in different cities of India.

So highly placed is this historical legend that the Indian parliament boasts a statue of Kalani on its premises.

His uncle Dr Manga Ram was also a freedom fighter and Kalani was inspired by his struggle against the British Raj.

According to Kalani’s neighbours, his family migrated to India after the partition of the subcontinent and resided in Chamber Camp, Mumbai. His younger brother, Tekchand, still lives in Mumbai and is 71 now.

At one point in time, Jawaharlal Nehru himself visited Kalani’s family and announced pension for his mother after his death.

Today, Iftikhar Shah possesses the house that once was home to Kalani in old Sukkur.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Ayush
    Jan 21, 2013 - 6:46AM

    Duh! The man was Hindu and his family migrated to Mumbai. What else did you expect?

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  • Jason
    Jan 21, 2013 - 7:12AM

    Interesting story. Many Americans don’t realize the British had to deal with the Japanese to their front and an insurgency to the rear in their Indian colonial possessions.

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  • Qazi Mehran Sindhi
    Jan 21, 2013 - 8:24AM

    Good Story..!

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  • Falcon
    Jan 21, 2013 - 9:04AM

    Thanks. I learnt something new today. A really brave and respectable soul indeed.

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  • Indian
    Jan 21, 2013 - 9:09AM

    Hemu Kalani and Bhagat Singh are Indian heroes already. It’s up to you Pakistanis to decide if you want to claim him too. From an Indian, I’d just like to say to all Pakistani friends, with humility: the sad thing is, your founding father, in his campaign, never even attempted to get the support of Punjabi or Sindhi Hindus. He never even tried to get them to vote for his party, the Muslim League, instead of the Congress. So when Pakistani conservatives say “this country was made for Muslims”, they’re right. Sadly. The solution to this is to stop defining your identity solely by the actions or words of one man from the 1940s. Most Indians don’t agree with everything that Gandhi said or did, though we respect him for his core beliefs of nonviolence, tolerance and coexistence. It should be the same for you guys, at least.

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  • Jan 21, 2013 - 1:49PM

    I don’t think the irony is that rapist is born from the womb of a woman, the irony is that raipst is born, at all. Every child who is born is innocent and the way society and social fabric of a society is responsible for what becomes of the child and mother is part of it, but do look at the fact that she is also product of the society

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  • Jan 21, 2013 - 3:02PM

    My above comment got sent to this story mistakenly, it was for the one written by Mr. Anwar Iqbal in Dawn, Two pages were opened simultaneously. Sorry for this mess up!

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  • Nizamuddin Laghari
    Jan 21, 2013 - 3:08PM

    I appreciate the bold step taken by the Express Tribune to publish a profile of a Hindu Sindhi on its front page. Hemu Kalani was neither Muslim nor Hindu, he was only Sindhi freedom fighter to get rid the aggressiveness to British Raj. He accepted the martyr but refused to beg the pardon from invaders. At that time there was no Pakistan existed but India was on the Globe. His advocate (Mr. A Sattar Pirzado) did nothing to fight his case to prove him innocent instead of tried to compromise on the written apology which refused by a Sindhi freedom fighter. The writer Mr. Shaikh also deserves a lot of gratitude to dig out the lost Sindhi character of the history

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  • rashid soomro
    Jan 21, 2013 - 4:22PM

    Hemu Kalani is a hero of sindh.

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  • Jehanzeb Mahar
    Jan 21, 2013 - 6:09PM

    Hemu Kalani is pride of Sindh

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  • Jehanzeb Mahar
    Jan 21, 2013 - 6:18PM

    Thank you Express Tribune for publishing this story on front page

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  • mujahid shah
    Jan 21, 2013 - 7:40PM

    excellant……… thanks tribune to get space our great freedom fighter, we proud on hemu kalani, he was the reall son of soil, who fought for his motherland……… we salute also mr. shaikh israr to bring this kind of forgetten history………. shame on pakstani govt. to do nothing in this regard……….. we demand and appeale to sindh govt. that announce HEMU kalani as a national hero of sindh at least.

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  • Abdul
    Jan 21, 2013 - 10:30PM

    Absolutely a great Hero…. We will never forget his bravery and cause he stood for. Love you Hemu Kalani.

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  • Kulwant Singh
    Mar 21, 2013 - 7:43AM

    @Ayush:
    My dear brother he was a freedom fighter what if he was a Hindu and his family migrated to India when he was hanged there was no Pakistan such heros of freedom struggle must be remebered and respected.

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