Archive for Bhagat Singh

Naghma-e-Zakhm-e-Dil: Songs of the Wounded Hearts

Posted in Communist Movement, Marxism, Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2009 by Umer

by Shahram Azhar

Many people who know little or nothing about Laal’s evolution question the practicality of building socio-political movements through music and poetry. Too obviously, there is some truth to this skepticism; music, in its essence is a language constructed on notes and percussion. Revolutionary movements on the contrary are political-economic-social movements that are led by oppressed classes to overthrow a system of exploitation. However, revolutionary movements are not chaotic movements built in days or even months. Revolutionary science teaches us that a protracted process of ideological struggle precedes revolutionary movements—in the words of the greatest revolutionary of the past century, Vladimir Lenin: “Without revolutionary theory, there will be no revolutionary movement”.

In every epoch the ruling classes befuddle the minds of the oppressed classes by systematically propounding and enforcing ideas that seek to maintain the balance of class forces intact. In order to reproduce their class hegemony on a continuous basis they must convince the broadest sections of the masses that the status quo is in the best interests of the oppressed classes as well. This, the ruling classes achieve by monopolizing the means of propaganda: schools, religious seminaries, media, art and academic inquiry, in other words all the instruments of mass knowledge are directly or indirectly controlled by the ruling classes. It is through these institutions that the oppressor convinces the oppressed that the current system of production and distribution is sane, just and stable. Once that has been achieved the ruling classes are said to have established their ideological hegemony over all other classes. The consolidation of this ideological hegemony exhibits itself most vociferously in official discourse as an overarching objective of the educational, literary and cultural pursuits of the ruling classes. Marx said:

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this In Its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.”

It is precisely here that the role of revolutionary intellectuals and artists acquires primary importance: the destruction of the power of the ruling class first and foremost assumes the destruction of its sources of power. Now, power itself can be divided into various forms. The ruling class does not rule through force alone. It rules because it has convinced the oppressed segments of society that it deserves to rule. X cannot be a slave-master to Y, if Y is no longer willing to accept X as his slave-master. If Y must no longer accept X as his slave-master, Y must first be convinced that he too has the intellectual and physical abilities to become the ruler.

Therefore, in order to defy the domination of the ruling bloc, oppressed classes and their ideologues must challenge the ideas upon which their power rests. Too obviously in every society, revolutionaries must possess the ability to creatively apply the general science of revolutions to the objective, concrete situation of their society. Revolutionaries must find a way to propagate their ideas in a manner that pushes the broadest sections of the masses towards revolutionary action. Revolutions are built when a significant proportion of the population is convinced that the ruling system of oppression and exploitation must be torn asunder. Revolutions are built when the forces of love and humanity conquer the forces of hatred and barbarity. Revolutions are made when millions upon millions are united by their wounds against a common enemy.

In Asiatic (i.e., where the Asiatic Mode of Production prevailed) societies, from Arabia to India, poetry and music have played an extremely important role in forming the psychological make-up of society. Let us take the most familiar example. In ancient Arabia, competing tribes had poets and musicians as their ideologues. Poets (who were also musicians) were warriors, propagandists and strategists and led their armies from the front.

In colonial India the poetry of Nandlal Noorpuri and Ram Prashad Bismil became immortalized in their death: Sarfaroshi key tamanna abb hamaray dil main hai (The desire for sacrifice is now in our hearts). Faiz Ahmed Faiz, in his book Mah-o-Saal-e-Aashnai remembers this time as the formative phase of his life as a revolutionary and says that “as a result of this movement there was a significant change in the nature of national protests. Now, the slogans of Swaraj and Band-e-Matram had been replaced by the slogan of Inquilab Zindabad! (Long Live the Revolution!) and people sang “Sarfaroshi key tamanna abb hamaray dil main hai” instead of “Saaray jahan say acha Hindustan Hamara” (Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan).

In the Punjab the poetry of Ajit Singh Sikka inspired the peasantry to revolt against the local landlords. His poem “Pagri Sambhal, Jatta Pagri Sambhal” (Hold you turban, Jut,  hold your turban) united the peasantry across the Chenab and the Ravi and gave birth to one of the greatest revolutionary leaders from the sub-continent: Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, who formed the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) and later the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army with the explicit aim of creating a socialist republic. One of the principal methods of ideological propagation that the NBS employed was poetry recitation and music. In fact, Bhagat Singh and his comrades continue to resonate in popular culture with the song that they sang to the gallows: “Mera rang day basanti chola, maayay, mera rang day basanti chola” (Dye my robe the colour of spring, mother, dye my robe the colour of spring).

These poets and revolutionaries in turn, inspired a new breed of revolutionary poets and poetesses. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Habib Jalib and Amreeta Preetam first, and later Ahmed Faraz and Jaun Eliya continued to hold aloft the banner of purposive art and poetry. The power and strength of their ideas can be seen through the fear that these immortal revolutionaries instilled in the hearts of military dictators, capitalists and jaageerdars. These fearless freedom fighters would stop at nothing less than the complete abolition of exploitation and injustices. In a time when the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq had banned the publication of anti-dictatorship material, poetry recitals became an extremely important method of defiance. The poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib was banned from newspapers and declared illegal. Yet, it continued to inspire millions upon millions of workers and peasants towards rebellion.

In his poem, “Hum jo taareek rahon main maaray gayay” (We, who were slain in unlit pathways), Faiz declared:

“Qatl gaahon say chun kar hamaray ala

Aur niklaingay ushaaq k qaafilay”

(Picking up our flags from these grounds

will march forth more caravans of your lovers)

And so it is with Laal: As individuals who seek to build a socialist revolution in Pakistan we have decided to re-lift the flags of our heroes. As long as there is oppression and injustice in our land, we will fight. As long as there are those who live through the labor of others in comfort and luxury, we will fight. As long as there are those who consider themselves the masters of the universe and all its wealth, we will fight.

Our poetry and music is for all the wounded hearts and the oppressed millions who continue to live in conditions of bondage and slavery. In the words of Jalib:

Jo sadaaayain sun raha hoon

mujhay bus unnhey ka ghum hai

Tumhain shair key pari hai

Mujhay aadmi ka ghum hai

(The calls that I hear

Only these worry my soul

You are concerned about the poet

I am worried about humanity)

Shahram Azhar is the lead vocalist of the musical band Laal (the Reds) and a member of the Communist Workers and Peasants Party (CMKP) of Pakistan.

Ashfaqulla Khan

Posted in Communist Movement, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , on December 22, 2008 by Umer

Bahadur ke mut ek baar hoti hai

Buzdil har roz sau baar marta hai

– Ashfaqulla Khan

Ashfaqulla Khan was hanged on 19th December, 1927. Today, 19th December, 2008, is his 81st death anniversary.

Ashfaqulla Khan was born on October 22, 1900 in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh. He was the youngest of the six children of Shafiqur Rahman and Mazharunissa. His father worked in the police department.

Ashfaqulla was school student when Mahatma Gandhi called for the Non-Cooperation Movement. This had a great influence on him and shaped him to become a freedom fighter. He was labeled as a terrorist by the British Government for his active participation in the train robbery at Kakori.

After the Chauri Chaura incident, Mahatma Gandhi’s withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation Movement left the youth of India very much depressed. Ashfaqulla was one of them. He felt the urge to free India as soon as possible and joined the extremists.

He made friendship with Ram Prasad Bismil who was a famous revolutionary of Shahjahanpur and a member of the Arya Samaj. In spite of their differences of faith, their common objective to free India from the shackles of the British rule.

A meeting was organized by the revolutionaries on August 8, 1925 in Shahjahanpur. They decided to rob the Government treasury carried in the train to buy arms. So on August 9, 1925 the group of extremists comprising of Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla, Rajendra Lahiri, Thakur Roshan Singh, Sachindra Bakshi, Chandrashekar Azad, Keshab Chakravarthy, Banwari Lal, Mukundi Lal, Manmathnath Gupta robbed the train carrying government money in Kakori village. This event is known as the famous Kakori Train Robbery in history.

Ram Prasad Bismil was arrested by the police on the morning of September 26, 1925. Ashfaqulla was still absconding. He went to Banaras from Bihar and started working in an engineering company. He worked there for 10 months. He wanted to go abroad to study engineering which would further help him in the freedom struggle. He went to Delhi for this purpose. He trusted one of his Pathan friends who pretended to help him but in turn handed him over to the police.

Ashfaqulla was confined in the Faizabad jail. His brother Riyasatullah was his counsel who fought the case. The case for the Kakori train decoity ended with the awarding of the death sentence to Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Rajendra Lahiri and Roshan. The others were given life sentences.

Ashfaqulla Khan was hanged on December 19, 1927.

We honour those who fought for the cause of our freedom from colonial rulers and promise they will never be forgotten.

This message was distributed by the Janbaat Book Distributors, Delhi, at the Pragoti Email List.

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

Posted in Communist Movement, Marxism with tags , , , , , , on March 24, 2008 by Umer

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.