History is filled with examples of how people who were harbingers of change faced great adversities.  From ancient philosophers to modern-day artists, they had to fight for their work and sometimes, their very existence. From questioning the status quo of society to challenging scientific orthodoxy, they have faced persecution, discrimination, exile, and even death. Yet their stories continue to inspire and resonate with people around the world.

Colombo Telegraph

Let’s explore the harrowing experiences of 11 famous figures, each enduring their own unique trials.

1. Nambi Narayanan

When you talk about people who were hard done by, I think the first name that comes to our minds is our revered scientist Nambi Narayanan. In 1994, while employed at ISRO, he was falsely accused of being involved with people selling ISRO’s rocket engine designs to Pakistan. As a result, Narayanan was arrested and detained for 50 days before being released. During this, he was reportedly subjected to physical abuse, handcuffed to a bed, and forced to stand for extended periods. He even went through a lie detector test but the report was not submitted in court.

Business Standard

2. Alan Turing

It’s no exaggeration to say that Alan Turing helped Britain win WW2 by cracking the enigma code. How was he rewarded though? With criminal charges for homosexuality. As an alternative to imprisonment, Turing underwent chemical castration which had severe side effects on his physical and mental health. He chose death to be a better place than having this suffering and a tarnished reputation.


3. Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky is renowned for his novels like Crime and Punishment and Notes from Underground. He was arrested for his involvement in a literary discussion group. After being sentenced to death, he was minutes away from being shot dead when the letter of his pardon came. Such was the trauma of that event that one of his fellow prisoners went insane as soon as he was untied. Dostoevsky was then sentenced to a Siberian prison labour camp, which was nothing less than torture. To add to his misery he had regular episodes of epilepsy attacks there.


4. Salman Rushdie

Ever since the publication of his controversial novel The Satanic Verses in 1989, Salman Rushdie is no stranger to death threats. But in 2022, as he was about to give a public lecture in New York, he was brutally attacked and stabbed multiple times. As a consequence of the attack, Salman is blind in his right eye, has a badly damaged left hand, struggles to write, and, at times, has “frightening” nightmares. Pen is mightier than a sword but what odds do you have when your attacker has an actual knife in his hands?


5. Andres Escobar

We often use the phrase in sports, “Play like your life depends on it’. For Colombian footballer Andres Escobar, it tragically turned out to be the reality. During a match in the 1994 FIFA World Cup, he scored an own goal, resulting in his nation’s exit from the tournament. Several days later, he was shot in a parking lot and his killer yelled “goal” each time he pulled the trigger. This murder is linked to one of the drug cartels in Columbia which had lost a lot of money betting on that game.

The Ringer

6. Sylvia Plath

Clinical depression, electroshock therapy, abuse and abandonment by husband… Sylvia Plath’s 30 years on earth was nothing sort of a nightmare. Her tumultuous marriage to poet Ted Hughes, his infidelity, and the breakdown of their marriage contributed to Plath’s mental anguish and eventual suicide. Hughes also admitted to destroying one of Plath’s journals after her death. It is believed that she ended her life by putting her head in an oven and turning on the gas. Just imagine a life so tragic that death seemed more comforting.

Poetry Foundation

7. John Lennon

John Lennon, the iconic member of The Beatles, was fatally shot by a man named Mark David Chapman. Chapman had been a Beatles fan since childhood and became disillusioned with Lennon and the other Beatles due to their immense wealth, viewing Lennon’s riches as a symbol of hypocrisy. Chapman said he was inspired by the fictional character Holden Caulfield from the novel The Catcher in the Rye, a “phony-killer” who loathes hypocrisy.


8. Oscar Wilde

Long before Alan Turing was convicted of “gross indecency”, Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde fell victim to this law in 1895 for his homosexual relationships. Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labour and endured public humiliation and exile from literary society.


9. Socrates

Socrates’ name is synonymous with the foundation of Western philosophy. However, his questioning of traditional beliefs and his criticism of the Athenian government made his life a living hell as he was convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens. He spent his last day in prison among friends and followers who offered him a route to escape, which he refused owing to his philosophy. He was sentenced to death by drinking poison hemlock.

The Collector

10. Galileo

It has always intrigued me how one struggles more to keep one’s work alive than actually creating it. Such was the life of Galileo as well. His support for the theory that the earth moves around the sun, and not the other way around as believed by the Catholic Church landed him in deep trouble. It is believed he was shown the instruments of torture and threatened with their use unless he recanted his expressed view. Galileo was very old at that point and had to spend his later years under house arrest.

Sky At Night

11. Tupac

I first learned about Tupac from his mention in the movie Gully Boy. Then I dug more into it and found out what a legend he had been in the Hip Hop scene. He was just 25 when he was fatally shot in a drive-by. The exact motive behind his murder remains unclear, but it is believed to have been connected to the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry of the 1990s, as well as other personal and professional conflicts. Tupac’s influence on the rap scene worldwide is the perfect example of Zindagi lambi nahin, badi honi chahiye.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Eternal glory sometimes comes at a hefty cost.