Lajpat Rai was born in Dhudike (now in Moga district, Punjab) on 28 January 1865. (The word ‘Lala’ is an honorific, applied to prominent Hindu men of the time.) His father was an Aggarwal by caste . Rai had his initial education in Government Higher Secondary School, Rewari (now in Haryana, previously in Punjab), in the late 1870s and early 1880s, where his father, Radha Krishan, was an Urdu teacher. Rai was influenced by Hinduism and created a career of reforming Indian policy through politics and writing.
Travels to America
Lajpat Rai travelled to the US in 1907, and then returned during World War I. He toured Sikh communities along the US West Coast; visited Tuskegee University in Alabama; and met with workers in the Philippines. His travelogue, The United States of America (1916), details these travels and features extensive quotations from leading African American intellectuals, including W.E.B. Du Bois and Fredrick Douglass. The book also argues for the notion of “color-caste,” suggesting sociological similarities between race in the US and caste in India. During World War I, Lajpat Rai lived in the United States, but he returned to India in 1919 and in the following year led the special session of the Congress Party that launched the non co-operation movement. Imprisoned from 1921 to 1923, he was elected to the legislative assembly on his release.
Protests against Simon Commission and death
In 1928, the British government set up the Commission, headed by Sir John Simon, to report on the political situation in India. The Indian political parties boycotted the Commission, because it did not include a single Indian in its membership, and it met with country-wide protests. When the Commission visited Lahore on 30 October 1928, Lajpat Rai led silent march in protest against it. The superintendent of police, James A. Scott, ordered the police to lathi (baton) charge the protesters and personally assaulted Rai. Despite being injured, Rai subsequently addressed the crowd and said that “I declare that the blows struck at me today will be the last nails in the coffin of British rule in India”. He did not fully recover from his injuries and died on 17 November 1928 of a heart attack. Doctors thought that Scott’s blows had hastened his death. However, when the matter was raised in the British Parliament, the British Government denied any role in Rai’s death. Although Bhagat Singh did not witness the event, he vowed to take revenge, and joined other revolutionaries, Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar and Chandrashekhar Azad, in a plot to kill Scott. However, in a case of mistaken identity, Bhagat Singh was signalled to shoot on the appearance of John P. Saunders, an Assistant Superintendent of Police. He was shot by Rajguru and Bhagat Singh while leaving the District Police Headquarters in Lahore on 17 December 1928. Chanan Singh, a Head Constable who was chasing them, was fatally injured by Azad’s covering fire.
The Lala Lajpat Rai Trust was formed in 1959 on the eve of his Centenary Birth Celebration, to promote education. The trust was founded by a group of Punjabi philanthropists (including R.P Gupta and B.M Grover) who have settled and prospered in the Indian State of Maharashtra. The Lala Lajpat Rai University of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, in Hisar, Haryana, is a state university was created in memory of Lajpat Rai. A statue of Lajpat Rai stands at the central square in Shimla, India (having been originally erected in Lahore and moved to Shimla in 1948). Lajpat Nagar and Lajpat Nagar Central Market in New Delhi, Lajpat Rai Market in Chandani Chowk, Delhi; Lala Lajpat Rai Hall of Residence at Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur and Kharagpur; as well as the Lala Lajpat Rai Institute of Engineering and Technology, Moga are named in his honour. Also many institutes, schools and libraries in his hometown of Jagraon, district Ludhiana are named after him. The bus terminus in Jagraon, Punjab, India is named after Lala Lajpat Rai. Lala Lajpat Rai Hospital, Kanpur is also named in his honour. Further, there are several roads named after him in many metropolis and other towns of India.