India won independence from the British Empire in 1947, but in doing so, it lost many men and women who fought for freedom from the tyrannous colonial ruler with undaunted courage and spirited patriotism. Today, these men and women are addressed as freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for their motherland. Over time, many heroes of our freedom struggle have been relegated to the distant past. They are hardly known despite their significant role in our struggle for emancipation from foreign domination. They have become forgotten chapters, as have countless other social reformists and their ideals. One among such forgotten pioneers is a son of the Sikkimese soil – the late Trilochan Pokhrel, popularly known as ‘Gandhi Pokhrel’.
Pokhrel was born to Bhadralal and Januka Pokhrel and brought up at Tareythang Busty in Pakyong subdivision of East Sikkim in the last decade of 19th Century. During his youth, he was greatly influenced by the movements started by Mahatma Gandhi which were based on the fundamental principles of truth and non-violence. While we do not have much information about his involvements in the earlier movements of Mahatma Gandhi, such as the Non-Co-operation Movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement, however, we can firmly claim his involvement in the famous Bharat Chhodo Aandolan (Quit India Movement) of 1942, from his contemporaries. His contemporaries inform us about his stay with Gandhiji at the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat and the Sarvodaya Ashram in Bihar. During his stay there, Pokhrel is known to have spent his time spinning the Charkha and rendering his services for the ashrams and assisting Gandhi in his daily affairs. He had immense faith in the teachings of the simple life led by Mahatma Gandhi. It is acknowledged that late Pokhrel was highly influenced by Gandhiji’s teaching and his lifestyle. His contemporaries in Tareythang village inform us that he used to visit his native village donning similar clothing as the naked fakir – Gandhi.
Dadhiram Dhamala of Amba Gram Panchayat Unit informed that Bande Pokhrel never used to stay at home for a long time. He claimed about his meeting with Trilochan Pokhrel. In one of the stories, he shared about his involvement in propagating the concept of Swadeshi of Mahatma Gandhi among the Sikkimese peasantry. Dhamala informed us about the activities of Bande Pokhrel that in his leisure time used to visit local hatt-bazar (such as Rongli, Rhenock, Pakyong, Rangpo etc) and sit there aside with his charkha (spinning wheel) to make cotton threads.
Akin to Gandhiji, he too wore a piece of cotton dhoti and a pair of Khadau (wooden Indian slippers). That was how he earned the nickname ‘Gandhi Pokhrel’. It is said that he used to greet elders in the village with ‘Bande Mataram’. This prompted some people in his village to refer to him as ‘Bande Pokhrel’. He used to convey the message of Vande Mataram and inculcate the spirit of Swadeshi Movement i.e. to spin and wear swadeshi cloths, to establish Khadi and village industries etc. so that the villages could be developed and income generation for the poor.
Reason to join Indian National Movement
Late Pokhrel was the first Sikkimese freedom fighter who fought against the British hegemony. Actually, Sikkim was protectorate state of British. In the year 1861 with the signature of the Treaty of Tumlong effectively made Sikkim a de facto protectorate of British India. The British government of India usually preferred tacit understandings and implicit commitments with the buffer states on the northern rim of the Indian empire. A unique combination of circumstances centring around the efforts to open Tibet in the latter decades of the nineteenth century finally led the British to establish a formal protectorate over Sikkim, one that was later recognized by China in the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of 1890 (Rose, 1969). This had a huge impact on Sikkim’s Sovereignty. British India assumed responsibility for the defence and territorial integrity of Sikkim and was granted the right to take such measures as it considered necessary to achieve this end or the security of India, including the stationing of British Indian armed forces anywhere within Sikkim. Another provision stipulated that the external affairs of Sikkim shall be conducted and regulated solely by the Government of British India and that Sikkim shall have no dealings with any foreign power. Sikkimese subjects travelling abroad would have the status of Indian protected persons and be entitled to the same protection and facilities and subject to the same rigorous foreign exchange restrictions as Indian nationals (McKay, 2003). The subsequent appointment of Political Officers in Sikkim from J.C. White in 1888 onwards, Britishers made a direct or indirect influence in Sikkim which made Trilochan Pokhrel join mainstream Indian Freedom Moment.
Award and Recognition
In recognition of the contributions of Pokhrel, Sikkim government conferred him the L.D. Kazi Award for Democratic Movement during 43rd State Day Celebration at Chintan Bhawan on May 16, 2018. The award carried a citation and a cheque of Rs One lakh to the granddaughter of late Pokhrel. LD Kazi was the first chief minister of Sikkim who immensely contributed to the democratic cause of Sikkim.
Later part of his Life
Few legends who knew late Pokhrel told us that during Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Sikkim in 1957 he had come to his native place and used to talk about the enigmatic Indian Prime Minister in voluminous manner. Perhaps this was his last visit to his native land and possibly he is the lone Sikkimese to take part in the Indian Struggle for independence. While inquiring about his descendants we were told that all his family members migrated to Assam long back. Tara Prasad Bhattarai of Kapurpatey village mentioned that Pokhrel sold his land to his father and still there is a piece of land at the Takchang (Kapurpatey) village where Bande Pokhrel used to once live. People in the Takchang (Kapurpatey) village called this land as Pokhrel Bari (Land of Pokhrel). While talking with Mr Bhattarai he showed us his last photograph and an envelope which was received by his family members 47 years ago. The said envelope was posted from the Purnia district of Bihar which contains the death confirmation of this Sikkimese Gandhian which read like this: “Expired on 27-1-69 at Prakritik Chikitsalaya, Ranipatra, P.O. Ranipatra, District Purunia, Bihar at 9 AM”.
(Binod Bhattarai is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Sociology, in School of Social Sciences, Sikkim University.)