Childhood & Early Life
Born as Lajpat Rai to the Munshi Radha Krishna Azad and Gulab Devi at the Dhudike village of Punjab on January 28, 1865, he belonged to the Aggarwal Bania community. His father was a scholar of Persian and Urdu language.
Young Rai attained his elementary educational training from the Government Higher Secondary School in Rewari where his father was posted as an Urdu teacher.
Upon completing his basic education, he enrolled at the Government College at Lahore in 1880 to attain a degree in law. It was while at college that he befriended Indian patriots and future freedom fighters like Lala Hans Raj and Pandit Guru Dutt.
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In 1885, he completed his study of law and started his legal practice in Hissar. However, unlike other lawyers from his fraternity, he did not aim at making legal practise his preferred profession and instead wanted to devote his life to social service.
It was during this time that he became an ardent follower of Dayananda Sarasvati, the founder of the conservative Hindu society Arya Samaj. Along with the latter, he helped establish the nationalistic Dayananda Anglo-Vedic School.
After the death of Swami Dayanand, he along with his associates worked hard to develop the Anglo-Vedic colleges and educational institutes. It was due to his impartial and unbiased attitude that he was elected to the Hissar municipality as a member first, eventually becoming its secretary.
In 1888, he entered politics and made impressive contribution in the country’s struggle for independence by working as a freedom fighter. At the Congress session in Allahabad, he was one of the eighty delegates whose heroic speech made waves in the Congress circle and uplifted his popularity by leaps and bounds.
To serve the cause of the country better, he decided to shift from the small town of Hissar. As such, qualifying to practice as an advocate, he moved to Lahore where he took up legal practice at the Punjab High Court. He constantly juggled between legal duties and social service.
He actively participated against the partition of Bengal and launched Swadeshi campaign. His name resounded in the emergence of the new leadership at the Indian National Congress as he became part of the famous Lal-Bal-Pal trio. He was unaffected by the repressive measure adopted by the government and constantly worked to infuse in people national pride and self-respect.
His active measures in creating a tide of revolution caused riots in Lahore and Rawalpindi in 1907 which resulted in his imprisonment in Mandalay jail for six months until November, 1907.
After being out of Congress for a couple of years, he re-entered the Indian National Congress in 1912. Two years later, he served as one of the delegates of the Congress in England.
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 however disrupted his plan for staying in England for six months and resulted in him moving to America on a self-imposed exile. It was in America that he strongly raised his voice about the pitiable state of India and Indians through his revolutionary speeches and books.
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In America, he established the Indian Home Rule League and initiated a journal called, ‘Young India’ which dealt with the significance of Indian culture and necessity for Indian freedom. It was through the paper that he initiated a movement that made him popular worldwide.
Returning to India in 1920, he took over as the President of the National Congress at the Special Session held in September. His surging popularity made him a national hero as people blindly accepted and followed him.
Following year, he founded the ‘Servants of the People Society’, a non-profit welfare organization, in Lahore. Unable to contain his growing popularity and his potential threat to the British Raj, he was imprisoned from 1921 to 1923.
Freed from jail, he turned his attention to the communal problem which became a rising threat to India. Though he was a devout Hindu and strongly was influenced by Arya Samaj, he understood the need for Hindu Muslim unity and actively worked for it.
In 1925, he presided over the Hindu Mahasabha held in Calcutta where his inspiring speech instigated numerous Hindus to join the national movement for Independence.
The year 1928 proved to a curtain puller in the life of this freedom fighter who voiced strongly against the British’s Simon Commission, which aimed at discussing Constitutional reforms needed in India but without having any Indian member on its panel.
Infuriated, he led a peaceful protest against the Commission, introducing a legislative assembly resolution for completely boycotting the latter and demanding that they return to their own country. British response in the form of lathi charge gravely injured him from which he never completely recovered.
Personal Life & Legacy
He breathed his last on November 17, 1928, due to heart attack. His death is celebrated as Martyrs Day in India.
Popularly referred to as the Lion of Punjab, Lala Lajpat Rai’s legacy continues to thrive in the country in the form of various schools, colleges and educational institutes which bear his name.
His statues adorn various roads, squares and lanes in numerous towns and metropolis of India. Additionally, markets and localities also bear his name to mark his relentless contribution in the freedom struggle.
In his life, he made lasting contribution in the field of commerce and journalism as well. While he is responsible for the establishment of the Punjab National Bank and the Lakshmi Insurance Company, his newspapers, journals and weeklies played a dominant role in instigating Indian youth to join in the freedom struggle.
His contribution as a social worker and member of the Arya Samaj has been invincible. He served as a father figure to the orphans, helped set up numerous orphanages which function till date and toiled tirelessly to improve the working condition of the working class.