The People’s Hero: Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh

Disturbed to life by the atrocious massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, disillusioned by the national political leaders who recoiled the promising Non-Cooperation Movement in 1922, alarmed by the rising religious divisions and reactionary rhetoric in the mainstream politics, and motivated by the Bolshevik Revolution of workers and peasants of Russia of 1917, Bhagat Singh and his compatriots entered the political scene of India and became the icon of the aspirations of the people of India in no time. Their aim was to bring a revolution that would not only end the colonial British regime but would also lay the foundations of a system that shall combat all forms of injustices. It was for these crimes that Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were hanged by the rulers of British colonialism on 23rd of March, 1931, at Lahore Camp Jail. Bhagat Singh was only 23 years old at the time of his hanging.

The colonial administration made it no secret that their enmity lied more with the ideals of Bhagat Singh rather than Bhagat Singh himself. Justice Medilton, who transported Bhagat Singh and B. K. Dutt for life in the Assembly Bomb Case, testified to the danger that the ideas of Bhagat Singh posed to the system based on manifest injustice: “These persons would enter the court with the cries of ‘Long Live the Revolution’ and ‘Long Live the Proletariat’ which shows clearly shows what sort of political ideology they cherish. In order to put a check in propagating these ideas, I transport them for life.” One can well imagine that Bhagat Singh must have received the Medilton’s comment with a broad smile. Once, during a court hearing when Bhagat Singh started laughing while chatting with one of his comrades, he ironically replied to inquiry of the Magistrate about the reason behind the amusement: “Dear Magistrate, if you can’t tolerate my laughing at the moment, what will happen to you when I laugh even on the scaffold?”

Bhagat Singh started his political journey when new lines were emerging in the Indian polity. On one hand, the religious jargon was being introduced in the political rhetoric at a mass scale and seculars like Jinnah were getting sidelined. On the other hand, the revolutionary ideas of Lenin and Bolshevik Revolution were trickling into India. Bhagat Singh, like many others who were already disillusioned by Gandhi, was attracted towards experiment of workers and peasants of Russia.

With this ideological motivation, the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), which was formed by Ashfaqullah Khan and Mahavir Singh in around 1925, became the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) in 1928 primarily on the insistence of Bhagat Singh. Along with an express commitment towards socialism, the HSRA also proclaimed a broad internationalist vision of a World Order that would free humanity from the scourge of capitalism and imperialist wars. Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) was founded in Lahore in 1926 as the open front of HSRA with object to expose reactionary politics and to promote religious harmony and secularism. In June 1928, Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev also organized a Lahore Students’ Union as auxiliary to NBS. The outlook of NBS was clearly popular. “Revolution by the masses and for the masses”, stated the Manifesto of the NBS. NBS made remarkable progress within a few months as its branches were organized all around India. It became so popular that it was banned by the British government in May of 1930.

In 1928, the all-White Simon Commission came to visit India in order to provide the further constitutional reforms. The Congress decided to boycott the Commission, and the HSRA decided to actively participate in the boycott demonstrations. One such demonstration, led by Lala Lajpat Rai was organized outside the Lahore Railway Station where the Commission was to arrive. Bhagat Singh and his compatriots were also a part of this protest. When the Police ordered baton-charge, the Superintendent of Police, J. A. Scott, targeted Lala Lajpat in particular who could not bear the severe injuries caused by the raining batons and died. The whole nation was infuriated at the death of Lala Lajpat.

HSRA decided to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. On December 17, 1928, Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekher Azad and Rajguru shot dead J. P. Saunders, a Police officer, mistaking him for Scott. Posters under-singed by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army appeared across Lahore the same night that stated that “we are sorry for shedding human blood but it becomes necessary to bathe the altar of revolution with blood.”

After the assassination of Saunders, Bhagat immediately escaped for Calcutta where he attended the first All India Conference of Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties and the Calcutta session of the Congress, where the Communist Party made an illustrious entry by demanding the Congress to accept the goal of complete independence (which did not happen).

This was a time when the Communist Party was taking its roots in India in general and in the working class movement in particular. Naturally, the British government became apprehensive and rounded 31 prominent Communist and labor leaders in the famous Meerut Conspiracy Case. Repressive measures, like the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill, were brought to the floor of Central Legislative Assembly that threatened the democratic rights of the citizens of India.

HSRA decided to take action against the onslaught of British government. On April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh and B. K. Dutt threw two bombs in the Assembly when Viceroy was supposed to enact the Trade Disputes Bill using his special powers against the will of the Assembly. These bombs were made especially for the occasion. As they were harmless and were not meant to kill anyone, no one was seriously injured. The bomb, as the leaflet thrown by Bhagat Singh in the name of HSRA, was “a loud voice to make the deaf hear”. Bhagat Singh and B. K. Dutt gave their arrests, as was pre- decided by the HSRA, so that they can use the trail in court to popularize the programme and ideology of the HSRA.

The struggle against British colonialism was taken to new scale in the court and in the jail. In the court room, the people of India met Bhagat Singh, the political thinker. In jail, the people of India witness the resilience of Bhagat Singh. The whole nation was awestruck by the hunger-strike that Bhagat Singh and his comrades managed to pull while protesting against the inhumane and discriminatory conditions meted out to the Indian political prisoners. This was a time, says Pattabhi Sitaramyya, official historian of the Congress, when “Bhagat Singh’s name was as widely known all over India and was as popular as Gandhi’s”. Bhagat Singh underwent a hunger-strike for more than 116 days, with one stretch of 97 days, despite the heavy and frequent torture inflicted by the Jail authorities. One of participants of the hunger-strike, Jatin Das, died on the 64th day of the strike.

As a political thinker, the jail years had a deep impact on the ideological development of Bhagat Singh. The presence of an impended trail, which was more of a propaganda forum for him, and an unending thirst for knowledge motivated Bhagat Singh to study hard. He read more than 144 books in jail and prepared extensive notes about his study in a prison diary. His thoughts matured with a serious study and he also criticized his own tactics. In a short message to students’ conference at Lahore, Bhagat Singh advised: “Comrades, Today, we can not ask the youth to take to pistols and bombs… the youth will have to spread to the far corners of the country. They have to awaken the crores of the slum-dwellers of industrial areas and villagers…” Writing about his revolutionary career, Bhagat Singh said: “Study” was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind… the Romance of the violent methods alone which was so prominent amongst our predecessors, was replaced by serious ideas. No more mysticism, no more blind faith… use of force justifiable when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity: non-violence as policy indispensable for all mass movements.”

When asked in court what he meant by revolution, Bhagat Singh famously replied: “A revolution does not necessarily involve sanguinary strife not is there any place in it for individual vendetta. It is not a bomb or pistol cult. By revolution we mean that the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice, must be changed… By revolution we mean the ultimate establishment of the order of society… in which sovereignty of the proletariat should be recognized.”

After being awarded life imprisonment in the Assembly bomb case, Bhagat Singh was registered for what came to be known as the Second Lahore Conspiracy Case for the assassination of J. P. Saunders. A special tribunal was set-up for the trail of Bhagat Singh that was provided with the novel power of conducting an ex-parte trail. After what was termed by A. G. Noorani as “a farcical trail”, Bhagat Singh was sentenced to death.

Gandhi observed the injustices meted out to Bhagat Singh in jail and in the court rooms with a conspicuous silence. It was only after the death of Bhagat Singh that the Congress gave a statement, after much tension over wording, in “admiration of the bravery and sacrifice of the late Bhagat Singh and his comrades”. A. G. Noorani pointed out that Gandhi could have averted the death of Bhagat Singh during his talks with the Viceroy, Lord Irwin. Gandhi’s claims that he tried his best to persuade the Viceroy were found to be mere lies by the records that came to light four decades later.

Bhagat Singh, nevertheless, found a supporter in the mainstream politics and that was in Jinnah. Jinnah who was himself isolated by the encroachment of religion in politics at that time and considered it undesired rose in support of Bhagat Singh. In his incisive speech to the Constituent Assembly on September 12 and 14, 1929, Jinnah harshly condemned the criminal colonial rule and the Government’s actions against revolutionaries:

“The man who goes on hunger-strike has a soul. He is moved by the soul and he believes in the justice of his cause; he is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of cold-blooded, sordid, wicked crime.

“What was he driving at? It is the system, this damnable system of Government, which is resented by the people.

“And the last words I wish to address the Government are, try and concentrate your mind on the root cause and the more you concentrate on the root cause, the less difficulties and inconveniences there will be for you to face, and thank Heaven that the money of the taxpayer will not be wasted in prosecuting men, nay citizens, who are fighting and struggling for the freedom of their country.”

In our part of the sub-continent, we conveniently forget the role played by non-Muslims in the struggle of liberation from the British colonialism. All non-Muslims are grouped in one category to be completely rejected by the rulers of Pakistan irrespective of their message and their history. The same fate met Bhagat Singh. That he was supported by Jinnah is a fact never mentioned in the corridors of power or in the text-books of Pakistan Studies. It is not surprising, though. Bhagat Singh, a symbol of resistance, could never be the hero of the government that is not based on the will of the people.

Although the times have changed, they do not appear to have changed a lot. The World, particularly Pakistan is still facing a number of problems that were essentially present in the times of Bhagat Singh as well. Hence, the legacy of Bhagat Singh remains with us in his uncompromising struggle against imperialism, unflinching resistance to communalism and caste oppression, unbending opposition to the bourgeois-landlord rule, and unswavering support for socialism as the best possible alternative before society.

Published in The Post (Vista) on Tuesday, March 25, 2008.

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30 Responses to “The People’s Hero: Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh”

  1. Hello there, In my college, we a organizes a small program on Bhagat Singh, we actually did it outside the college on the street after taking permission of the authorities, we were about 4 speakers for the occasion and entire program lasted for about 20 minutes. We had asked all our friends to come and attend that program.

  2. sabah ahsan Says:

    Aseem: How about motivating people to change their beliefs and perspectives, and doing that not through campaigns! Lets say 5 to 7 people attend these gatherings. Which amounts to almost nothing..!

  3. informative post

  4. Brilliant
    I am most impressed with this piece – eloquent, reasoned and forceful..
    well done yaar

  5. Indian capitalist government is trying to color Bhagat Singh as terrorist. In Orissa province, school syllabus containing texts coloring Bhagat Singh as terrorist was introduced. When people opposed those texts, politicians replies that it is officers’ fault and not their own fault.

  6. Well first of all it was not a campaign with just 5 to 7 people attending it, we had close to 60 people right in the first meeting, after that, we are now preparing a magazine which will carry our message to all the students and even outsiders who are interested.

  7. Shaheen Sultan Dhanji Says:

    Exceptionally written…. Keep the platform ignited!

  8. Some articles related to Bhagat Singh’s life and times and his hundredth birth anniversary that have been published recently in The Tribune, Chandigarh, can be accessed at:

    http://www.tribuneindia.com/2008/20080105/saturday/main1.htm

    http://www.tribuneindia.com/2007/20070311/spectrum/book1.htm

    http://www.tribuneindia.com/2007/20070318/spectrum/main1.htm

    http://www.tribuneindia.com/2008/20080322/saturday/main1.htm

  9. Bhagat Singh was one of the early Marxists but anti-communist organisations like RSS and VHP etc are misusing Bhagat Singh’s name by claiming Bhagat Singh as hindu nationalist. Bhagat Singh was an atheist. He was born in sikh family and didn’t even had family background that directly reflected hinduism.

  10. […] and the depoliticised majority. With that (very) brief look at communism in South Asia Vidrohi blogs about the life of revolutionary Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh who was killed by the British in 1931: Bhagat Singh started his political journey when new lines […]

  11. sachin singh Says:

    I am looking for the debates that took place after April 8, 1929, after the bomb was thrown in the central assembly.
    Most Congress leaders condemned the act of Bhagat Singh and Vitthalbai Patel was conducting the assembly at that time. He was the brother of Sardar Patel

  12. muhammad hassan Says:

    sir i am teacher i have much impressed to read this page i am also the big fan of shaheed bhagat sing i have also collected the major and important information about the life of bhagat singh i live in lahore i also saw the birth place of shaheed bhagat singh in lail pure which is called now a day fasial abad i want to contact and meet the family of that great leader i want to attribute him can you help me in this regard i will be very thank ful to you i am wainting your reply

  13. Imran Mansuri Says:

    I am a big fan of Bhagat singh as well as Azad, Ashafaqullah Khan, Sukhdev, Rajguru and other member of the organisation. Here I only want to say that, jab yeh log apne maa-baap bhai bahen, family ko chhodkar desh ke liye mar mitne ka jazba rakhte hue fansi par chadh gaye tab yeh RSS ke creators kahan they. history mein unka koi namonishan nahi milta inke support mein. aaj bhale hi woh log Bhagat singh ke naam ka marketing kar rahe hain lekin main nahi manta ke yeh log is karya ke supporters they. Bhagat sing aur Unke sathiyo ke bare mein jitna respect aur regard muslims aur sikh logo ne kiya hai utna kisi bhi hindu ne nahi kiya. yeh to sare marketing ke funda sikhkar aaye hue politicians hai. indian people are not fool. but shameful. jab bhi bhagat singh ka naam aata hai unka picture ek hindu ki tarah pesh kiya jata hai, but people are aware of manifest truth. and here i want to say that as i have read on Bhagat singh I believe that Bhagat singh ever called himself a ‘Indain’, not ‘Sikh’ or ‘Hindu’.

    • vikas malik Says:

      sir me app ke bath se bilcul shamst ho ki bhagat singh ko aaj ke hindu leder apna matlab ke liya use kar rha ha JAI HIND

  14. deepak kohli Says:

    “The dream of great martyr Shaheed Bhagat Singh was a secular India”
    as if we are now saying that India is globally developing but the biggest truth is RSS backed Bajrang Dal is killing inocent peoples, they are saying that they are Bajrang Dal, i asked one question to those who are in Bajrang Dal that they know the meaning of Bajrang who is Bajrang , according to hindu mythology Bajrang is “Hanuman ji ” and they help bhagwan Ram to bring back Sita Mata from Evil Ravan. Bajrang Bhagwan is symbol of rescuing from problem. Bajrang Dal people spoiling Bajrang Bhagwan name so i gave one suggestion to Bajrang Dal people change their name from Bajrang Dal to Ravan Dal and please do not spoil God’s Name.

  15. delhibond_007 Says:

    I am also a biggest fan of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, the word fan is not enough, Shaheed Bhagat Singh is god to me. I visited Shaheed’s ancestral house in Punjabi it is called Jadi Ghar, in Khatkar Kalan, District Nawa Shahar, Now re-nomenclature as Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar on the birth anniversary this year.
    Now i take swear that i reorganised HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republican Association) but some changes also now HSRA being Called ISRA (Indian Socialist Republican Association) because India is secular.
    Earlier Shaheed Bhagat Singh sacrifices himself to fight against Imperialist British. Now we have to fight against secular forces in India to fulfil dream of our Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
    If anybody has courage lets join hand to fight secular forces.
    Inquilab Zindabad.

  16. Dear Delhibond,
    There are many people who are uniting and fighting on the principles of Bhagat Singh and other such revolutionaries.
    Do have a look at http://www.cpimlnd.org it is only the organised revolutionary left which can pose a strong challenge to the traitor ruling classes of India- the ‘gora angrez’ who are cheap selling our country to the capitalist developed nations.
    Inqalaab Zindabad

  17. in to days context i would like to say oh bhagat singh tu mat lena kaya bharatbasi ki yehna desh bhagti ki saja phir melagi phansi ki

  18. Amazingly written. Although I do not agree with these lines, “Gandhi’s claims that he tried his best to persuade the Viceroy were found to be mere lies by the records that came to light four decades later.”

    I say this, not because I am a sycophant of Gandhi, but here’s what he himself had to say to his father as a reply to his father’s mercy petition :

    “My life is not so precious, at least to me, as you may probably think it to be. It is not at all worth buying at the cost of my principles. There are other comrades of mine whose case is as serious as that of mine. We had adopted a common policy and we shall stand to the last, no matter how dearly we have to pay individually for it. Father, I am quite perplexed. I fear I might overlook the ordinary principles of etiquette and my language may become a little bit harsh while criticizing or censuring this move on your part. Let me be candid. I feel as though I have been stabbed in the back. Had any other person done it, I would have considered it to be nothing short of treachery. But in your case, let me say that it has been a weakness – a weakness of the worst type. This was the time when everybody’s mettle was being tested. Let me say, father, that you have failed. I know you are as sincere a patriot as one can be. I know you have devoted your life to the cause of Indian independence, but why, at this moment, have you displayed such a weakness? I cannot understand. In the end, I would like to inform you and my other friends and all the people interested in my case, that I have not approved of your move. I want that the public should know all the details about this complication, and therefore, I request you to publish this letter. Your loving son, Bhagat Singh.”

    This is taken from The Marxist -> Bhagat Singh – An Immortal Revolutionary -> Ashok Dhawale, http://www.cpim.org

    Hence, while scholars may infer Gandhi’s lack of will in the issue, Bhagat would not have launched a scathing attack on Gandhi, like he did on his father his father, had he succeeded in doing what you are criticizing him for.

  19. Arshdeep singh Says:

    myself ,abig fan of shaheed e asam ……….. i know i cant live with the thoughts of bhagat singh but i have always tried to do so ……………..

  20. SURAJ ROR Says:

    still bhaght singh is real young man in my country but we do not know but where is it i love bhaght singh and his all freedom fighter and a big salute form me and as well as from my friends

  21. i really apprecited dat guys who come forward by not taking care of there lives.a great clap 4 them.

  22. great job!!!!!!!!

  23. how can i describe all .i have no word. becasuse i am too shot to say .only one world i have ——-bhagat tum ho meri jann. mera desh ke shaan, main tuj per hu kurban. meri bachpan , meri jawani mera har ek
    kdam mera desh or mera bhagat singh layi.

  24. […] I was about to publish this post, Umer Chauhdry the bright student sent me this piece on Bhagat Singh. I had faintly known of Quaide Azam's respect for Bhagat Singh but Umer made the […]

  25. AMAN_KHAIRA Says:

    Sardar Bhagat singh Zindabad….Delhibond_007..u r so lucky u saw JAD-GHAR, i wish to u go there one day..

  26. ppl say gandi he is grate man.but he was just think about familey…. But over bhagat sing die 4 countrey…so why ppl dnt think about this?

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