(1873 – 1899) – (Maharashtra)
Balkrishna Hari Chapekar (Aged 26) also known as Bapurao, born on 1873 in Chinchwad, a village near the former Peshwa capital Pune, Maharashtra, India. Along with his brothers, Damodar Hari and Vasudeo Hari, he was popularly known as “The Chapekar Brothers”. They were Indian revolutionaries who were involved in assassinating W. C. Rand, the British Plague Commissioner of Pune, in the late 19th century.
The public of Pune was frustrated with the vandalism from the officers and soldiers appointed by Rand after the bubonic plague hit India in 1896-97. The government had set up a Special Plague Committee for managing the pandemic, whose commissioner was Walter Charles Rand, an Indian Civil Services officer. Troops were brought in to deal with the emergency. Despite orders from the government to pay heed to religious sentiments, Rand appointed over 800 officers and soldiers. The measures employed included entry into private houses, stripping and examination of occupants (including women) by British officers in public, evacuation to hospitals and segregation camps, and preventing movement from the city. Some of these officers also vandalized properties and religious symbols.
These measures were considered oppressive by the populace of Pune, and complaints were ignored by Rand. Thus, to put an end to the injustice borne by the people of Pune, the Chapekar brothers shot Rand and his military escort, Lieutenant Ayerst, on 22 June 1897, the Diamond Jubilee of the coronation of Queen Victoria. After this incident, the Chapekar brothers became heroes in the eyes of the people of Pune.
Initially, Damodar Hari was arrested in connection with the above on the basis of information given by the Dravid brothers. In his statement, recorded on 8 October 1897, Damodar Hari said that atrocities like the pollution of sacred places and the breaking of idols were committed by European soldiers at the time of house searches in Pune during the plague. Chapekar tells that they wanted to take revenge for this. His statement was treated as a confession, and he was charged under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, tried and hanged on 18 April 1898. During this time, Balkrishna Hari and Vasudeo Hari, along with their accomplices, went into hiding and were later caught.
Then, two Chapekar brothers and two accomplices, Mahadev Ranade and Shathe (first name not known), were charged with the murders in various roles, as well as the shooting of two informants and an attempt to shoot a police officer. Rand passed away by 1899. The Chapekar brothers Balkrishna Hari, Vasudeo Hari, and Ranade were sentenced to death and executed by the gallows. Vasudev Hari was executed on 8 May 1899, Mahadeva Vinayak Ranade on 10 May 1899, and Balkrishna Hari on 12 May 1899. Sathe, though a juvenile, was sentenced to 10 years’ Rigorous Imprisonment.
Lokmanya Tilak gifted Damodar Hari Chapekar a copy of the “Geeta,” which he carried with him until the last day of his life. Chinchwad village sacrificed his life for the freedom of the country and for the dignity of his countrymen.
The 1979 Indian Marathi-language film, “22 June 1897,” covers events prior to the assassination, the act, and its aftermath. The Hindi film “Chapekar Brothers” was released in 2016, covering the same historical events. An Indian web television series about the brothers in Marathi, “Gondya Ala Re,”