Apr 25, 2013

GOPI CHAND BHAGAT





BHAGAT GOPI CHAND

Bhagat Gopi Chand was born in village Poth, Sialkot now in Pakistan. He was self made man as he hailed from a poor family. He was one of the very few educated person of the Megh Samaj. With his self determination and commitment to the cause of upliftment of Megh community he became one of the pioneering figures in the entire Megh Samaj. He always propagated for the spread of education among the children of Megh families as he was of the staunch review that only through education, the standard of living of Megh Samaj can be raised. He heavily stressed on the point that Meghs should not consider themselves as downtrodden or lower strata of people. He was of the strong opinion that Meghs should develop self confidence and treat themselves as equal to highest hierarchy in the caste system.
    Bhagat Gopi Chand was exemplary figure in Megh Samaj who set examples for others to follow. This made the people of Megh Samaj to follow him and seek his advice on political, economic and social issues. The guidance and advice provided by Bhagat Gopi Chand stood in good stead in the lives of those Megh who sought guidance and as much more and more people liked him and bestowed confidence in him.
   In the pre-independence era Meghs were mostly dependent on daily earnings. So Bhagat Gopi Chand felt that the standard of living of Megh Samaj can be raised if they join government services. At that time Army service was the main and biggest service. But Meghs were not being recruited in the army as they were considered coward and weak by the Britishers. But he took up with the British authorities in the army and made representations and took Megh delegation to the authorities. He argued with British army authorities emphatically stating that Meghs are very strong at heart and body and are best suited to army service. It was after repeated delegations that British army accepted the arguments of Bhagat Gopi Chand and started allowing recruitment of Meghs in the army, though at the lower level. He was also recruited in the army as a test case.
   Bhagat Gopi Chand was brave and courageous man. To prove that Meghs were also strong and fit for army service, he performed his duties boldly and won the hearts of his army officers. During World War II he was assigned the duty along with a unit of the army at the North West Provincial area. They were at high altitude. At might thunder storm hit the area with heavy rain and cold. The captain ordered the entire company to retreat to the base camp. But Bhagat Gopi Chand refused to obey the orders stating that he would remain there to protect the heavy ammunition the company had stored. The captain threatened to refer him for court marshal if he (Bhagat Gopi Chand) did not retreat along with rest of the company. But Bhagat Gopi Chand did not budge. Next day the captain complained to his next officer for court marshal. As the weather had calm down, the officer wished to personally impact. The officer along with the reached the place where the company was posted on the previous might. The officer saw that Bhagat Gopi Chand was lying cold and fatigued. The officer highly appreciated the courage of Bhagat Gopi Chand and instead of court-marshalling him he recommended for award of “Muraba” (a large area of cultivable land). Thereafter, Bhagat Gopi Chand never looked back and continued his struggle for the cause of Megh community.
    When the British Government allowed home-rule for India, Bhagat Gopi Chand contested the election for MLA. The biggest drawback in Megh community was and is also existing in the present time is that there is lack of oneness in the community and there are elements who always try to pull the legs of the person who attempt to rise. This very negatively in the Megh community played its role then and Bhagat Gopi Chand lost the election. This did not deter Bhagat Gopi Chand to fight for the upliftment of Megh community.
           In 1947 when India got independence and was divided into Pakistan and India, Bhagat Gopi Chand played a major role in saving the lives of the people belonging to Megh community. During partition Muslim organizations were bent upon annihilating the Hindus from the soil of Pakistan. So they started wide spread killing of Hindus in all the cities and villages of Pakistan. Even the women children were not spared. Young Hindu women forced to convert to Islam and those who refused were subjected to torture and humiliation of worst type. Their private parts of body were cut after tearing their dignity.
Bhagat Gopi Chand was highly aggrieved when he heard of killing of Meghs and their women and children by Muslims. He thought of an idea to save the lives of Meghs. He met leaders of Muslim organization and told them that Meghs are not Hindus and therefore, their lives should be spared. This idea struck and the Muslim organization agreed. Bhagat Gopi Chand then distributed black bandsamong the Meghs and told them to bind the same around their arms. The Muslims stopped killing Meghs who wore black band on their arms. By this way Bhagat Gopi Chand succeeded in saving the lives of Meghs. Thereafter he planned as to how Meghs could be brought safely by train from Pakistan to India. He got distributed black bands among the Meghs to be worn by them on their arms. He sent messengers to different villages to tell them to pack up the luggages at night and be ready be picked up, in the morning, by trucks which he got arranged. He also sent his younger brother Sh. Ram Chand as a messenger for the purpose. But when Sh. Ram Chand was returning at night after visiting one village, he was spotted some Muslim group who chased him and killed him mercilessly. Even this loss of brother could not dampen the spirit of Bhagat Gopi Chand. He tied up with the railways and got one train stationed at the railway station. All the Meghs who were brought from various villages by trucks boarded the train. Majority of passengers of this train were Meghs and the army contingent escorted the train. The train stopped at each railway station, on its way, and carried the Meghs waiting at the station. This train was perhaps the only train which completed its voyage from Pakistan toIndia safely without even a single person having killed by Muslims throughout the journey. Bhagat Gopi Chand got arranged settlement of Meghs at various settlement colonies in tents initially.
        Bhagat Gopi Chand did not feel content with this rather he was always brooding over how to settle Megh families in respectable settlements and provide them with permanent source of earnings. He took up the case of Meghs refugees with the Indian government. On the basis of his past record, he was given the charge of rehabilitation of refugees by appointing in the Rehabilitation Department of Government of India. He then availed this opportunity effectively. He urged the Megh families who were living in tents under unhygienic and poor living condition to come to Alwar District of Rajasthan where they were to be allotted cultivableland for permanent and respectful rehabilitation. A large number of Megh families were taken to Alwar District free and were allotted cultivated land in the villages as ‘pucca pattas’ to be the owners of cultivable land allotted to them without charging even a single paisa. Many of the ignorant families opposed this move of Bhagat Gopi Chand and charged him for uprooting them from then tented settlements. They even abusive songs derogatory to Bhagat Gopi Chand. One line of a song was “…..Alwar jaan waalio bera rur jaye Gopi da….” This also did not dampen the spirit of Bhagat Gopi Chand and he continued with the rehabilitation scheme because he knew that Meghs were ignorant. With the passage of time the Megh families who settled in villages of Alwar District and other adjoining areas started getting the taste of fruit of that rehabilitation. They became self dependent could earn lot of money from cultivation of their own land. They could meet all the requirement of their families and could still save money for future. They used to recollect the time when they were living in tents in Punjab and were struggle daily for work to earn enough to both ends meet. In Rajasthan villages they felt proud to be owner of cultivable land. Now they have become rich and many families feel proud to be called as Jats. They have forgotten their past but still remember Bhagat Gopi Chand for the good he had done for them and showering lot of praise on him treating him as Messiah for them.
However, Bhagat Gopi Chand did not forget the Megh families who opt to remain back in tented accommodation. He saw men struggling for daily work and their women folk work in fields of others, he then concentrated on them. At that time government and private jobs were rare and while Meghs were mostly illiterate, it was all the more difficult to look jobs them. He then approached the Military establishment at Jalandhar and requested the authorities to provide the Meghs with unskilled, semi-skilled jobs in the establishment. The authorities agreed and recruited some Megh males on unskilled jobs to be trained for skilled jobs as well. Meanwhile he put the case before the government to provide alternative and better accommodation other than tents as the Meghs were leading miserable life in tents. After lapse of sometime the government provided kucha houses called barracks to Meghs.
      During the fight for the cause ofMeghs, Bhagat Gopi Chand remained mostly in the transit and therefore could not devote his time to his family at Jalandhar. Even the work of admission of his children in the schools was done by his devout followers. After completing the work of rehabilitation of Meghs and subsequent retirement that he started living with his family at Jalandhar. Then he guided his children for proper education.
      A man who spent his hectic life could not remain idle for long. Bhagat Gopi Chand started serving on small honorarium in Gulab Devi, T B Hospital at Jalandhar. There also he helped patients of Megh Community to get free treatment from the hospital. While serving in the T B Hospital, he also got infection. He was brought to Delhi, by his son, and got him admitted in a renowned T B Hospital. After treatment for a few months, he was discharged from the hospital with the direction to take medicine regularly for another year and then he returned to Jalandhar. But ill luck would have been he did not take care to take medicine regularly and also did not take precaution as advised by the doctor and left for heavenly abode on 14 Oct 1979. Thus the era of Bhagat Gopi Chand came to an end, but not before giving honorable life to the people of MeghSamaj. He has left the world but not the hearts of Meghs who will always feel indebted to him for what he has done for them.

Contributed by: Mohinder Paul (son), Neha Bhagat (grand daughter) and Shashank Bhagat (grand son)


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