In India’s fight for freedom, the revolutionary movement had a lot of young men and women who believed that only an armed struggle against the government would deliver India from British rule. Rajendranath Lahiri was one of those unsung freedom fighters who lived the life of a revolutionary, challenging and desiring to break free from the past to establish the groundwork for a new society. He fought alongside Ashfaqullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, and Roshan Singh Thakur in the famous Kakori Conspiracy Case.
Born on 29 June 1901 in the Pabna area of present-day Bangladesh, in a landowner’s family, Rajendranath Lahiri was sent to Varanasi to study. While he was pursuing his Masters (History) from Benaras Hindu University, he got acquainted with the famous revolutionary, Sachindranath Sanyal. Seeing the fire, spirit, and passion for freedom in Lahiri, Sanyal made him the editor of the magazine Banga Vaani and the coordinator and arms-in-charge for the Varanasi branch of the Anushilan Samiti.
Sachindranath Sanyal was one of the founders of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), which later adopted the word, Socialist, thus becoming the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). Lahiri soon became a member of the HSRA. The HSRA, with its aim to oust the British from India through an armed and organized revolution, initially looted wealthy landlords to fund their firearms and the printing of their literature and posters. However, they soon realized that this was antithetical to their notion of freedom, and it was collectively decided to rob government coffers instead. One of their most notable robberies took place on 09 August 1925. Famously known as the Kakori Conspiracy Case, Rajendranath Lahiri, along with Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, and Thakur Roshan Singh, looted a train carrying government money near Lucknow. According to reports, it was Lahiri who stopped the train by pulling the chain in a second-class compartment. During the heist, an innocent passenger was accidentally killed. Lahiri and the other revolutionists dispersed to different places after this dacoity.
Amongst the revolutionaries, Lahiri was one of the most well-read. Many a time, the subject of religion in the public and private domains was debated. Despite being a Brahmin himself, Lahiri constantly challenged the social and traditional customs of the upper-caste Hindu society; so much so that he discarded the sacred thread that was considered integral to Brahmins. He opined that social prejudices were stumbling blocks in the path of progress, and they had to be broken off mercilessly. In fact, in the 1920s, Lahiri was regarded as a symbol of the Indian revolutionary movement's transformation. The revolutionary movement saw a change from anti-British nationalism to socialism in terms of ideology and a shift towards atheism in terms of religious beliefs.
After the Kakori Conspiracy Case, Lahiri and eight other revolutionaries were sent to a bomb factory in Dakshineswar to learn bomb-making. It is said that a loud explosion in the course of their work alerted the police and got them all arrested. In what came to be known as the 'Dakshineswar Bomb Case’, Lahiri, the mastermind behind this lesser-known case, was awarded a ten-year sentence in the Cellular Jail at Andamans. However, once the trial for the Kakori train robbery began, Lahiri was identified as a co-conspirator, and his sentence was then transferred from the Cellular Jail to the Lucknow Central Jail. Here he was tried along with the other revolutionaries.
On 17 December 1927, Lahiri was hanged in the Gonda District Jail (UP), two days before his specified execution date because the British authorities feared that the revolutionaries would attempt yet another escape. Lahiri’s hanging stands out not just in revolutionary history but also in the history of capital punishment in general, as it was for the first time that a death sentence was carried out ahead of schedule.
Rajendra Nath Lahirí’s supreme sacrifice for the nation is commemorated every year on 17 December as Lahiri Diwas, in the district of Gonda. In tribute, his statue has also been installed in the Gonda District Jail.