Shaheed Bhagat Singh (28 September 1907 – 23 March 1931) was a Fearless Indian freedom fighter, considered to be one of the most influential revolutionaries of the Indian independence movement. He is often referred to as Shaheed Bhagat Singh (the word shaheed meaning “martyr”).
Born in 28 September 1907 (at Jaranwala Tehsil, Punjab, British India) to a Jat Sikh family which had earlier been involved in revolutionary activities against the British Raj, Singh, as a teenager, became an atheist and had studied European revolutionary movements. He also became attracted to anarchism and Marxist ideologies. At a very young age, Shaheed Bhagat Singh became involved in various revolutionary organizations. He quickly rose through the ranks of his main organisation Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) and became one of its leaders, later converting it to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). Shaheed Bhagat Singh gained support when he underwent a 116-day fast in jail, demanding equal rights for Indian and British political prisoners. He was hanged for shooting a police officer in response to a police lathi charge leading to the demise of veteran freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. His legacy prompted youths in India to begin fighting for Indian independence and contributed to the rise of socialism in India.
Life of Shaheed Bhagat Singh
One of the most inspirational youth icons of the Indian freedom struggle, Shaheed Bhagat Singh was born on September 28, 1907 in the Khatkar Kalan village near Banga in the Lyallpur district of Punjab. Born into a Traditional Sikh family (some of whom had been active in Indian independence movements and others having served in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army) with a proud legacy of revolutionary activities against the British rule, Bhagat Singh cultivated his revolutionary zeal from a tender age.
The notorious Jalianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919 (where thousands of unarmed civilians were killed by the British) left an indelible scar on the mind of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. At a very tender age of 12, he decided to give his life for the Country’s Freedom Struggle and soon founded the Indian nationalist youth organization – “Naujawan Bharat Sabha”. He also joined the Hindustan Republican Association and started working relentlessly with the prominent leaders, such as Ram Prasad Bismil, Chandrashekhar Azad and Ashfaqulla Khan to garner opposition against the British.
In 1928, when the Simon Commission came to India, it was met with peaceful boycott by Indian political parties all over the country, because it did not include a single Indian in its membership. During one such protest march in Lahore on October 30, veteran leader Lala Lajpat Rai was mercilessly beaten up by police chief James A. Scott and Lala later succumbed to the fatal injuries. Bhagat Singh, who witnessed this macabre incident, vowed to take revenge & hatched a conspiracy to kill Scott with other revolutionaries, Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar and Chandrashekhar Azad. However, in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity, DSP J.P. Saunders fell to the revolutionaries’ bullets instead of the police chief.
After killing Saunders, Bhagat Singh & his group went into hiding to escape prosecution, but soon came under light during the 1929 Assembly bomb throwing incident. Bhagat and his comrades at the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association planned to detonate a bomb in the assembly in order to protest against the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Dispute Act, which had been rejected by the Assembly but were being enacted by the Viceroy using his special powers. As per the plot, on April 8, 1929, Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt stormed inside the court and threw bombs onto the corridors of the assembly shouting “Inquilab Zindabad.” Both Singh and Dutt voluntarily courted arrest and they were sentenced to ‘ Transportation for Life’ for the incident.
But soon the British got wind of Bhagat Singh’s involvement in the killing of Saunders and along with Sukhdev and Rajguru, he was charged with murder. True to his fearless soul, Bhagat Singh owned responsibility of the murder and justified the act in a fiery statement. After a farcical trial lasting five months, on March 23, 1931, Bhagat Singh was hanged in Lahore with his fellow comrades Rajguru and Sukhdev.
Philosophy of Bhagat Singh
Bhagat Singh was a visionary leader whose battles against the British were based on the strong foundation of the principles he staunchly believed in and cherished. Ace Indian Leader, Subhas Chandra Bose said that “Bhagat Singh had become the symbol of the new awakening among the youths”. Even though Bhagat took the plunge in the non-cooperation movement called by Mahatma Gandhi at an early age, he soon became disenchanted with Gandhian philosophy and gradually embraced the socialist way of thought. Bhagat Singh’s 404 page jail diary, later published as ‘A Martyr’s Book,’ offers a glimpse into the philosophy and thoughts of Bhagat Singh.
Bhagat Singh got very fascinated by the Marxism Ideology at a young age and the Russian Revolution of 1917 greatly kindled the revolutionary zeal running in his veins. He was greatly influenced by the thoughts of Marxist luminaries such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. After joining the Hindustan Republican Association, Bhagat Singh and his comrades rechristened the organization as Hindustan Socialist Republican Association and partook in many revolutionary activities. Regarded as one of the earliest Marxists in India, Bhagat Singh envisioned a socialist India with equality for all.
Bhagat Singh was a staunch atheist and he refused to acknowledge the existence of an omnipresent God. He opined that God is the imaginary creation of the man who is too conscious of his weaknesses, limitations and shortcomings and each time he is confronted with trying circumstances or dangers, he conveniently takes recourse to this almighty God.
Because of such extreme beliefs, Bhagat Singh was criticized as being arrogant and vain even by his fellow revolutionaries. During his period of incarceration in 1931, while waiting for the hangman’s noose, Bhagat Singh wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘Why I am an Atheist’ to silence all the criticism.
Bhagat Singh in Jail
Bhagat Singh was a fearless soul, not a man to be deterred by the fear of police atrocities or long stretches of imprisonment. After exploding bombs in the famous Incident of Central Assembly Bombing on April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh voluntarily courted arrest along with comrade Batukeshwar Dutt. He was sentenced to transportation for life and when the police got an inkling of his involvement in the Lahore Conspiracy case, Bhagat was charged with the murder of DSP Saunders.
Once inside the jail, Bhagat Singh witnessed discrimination between European and Indian prisoners, and led other prisoners in a hunger strike to protest against this shoddy treatment meted out to the Indian political prisoners. He and Batukeshwar Dutt launched a hunger strike demanding equality in standards of food, clothing, toiletries and other hygienic necessities, as well as availability of books and a daily newspaper for the political prisoners, whom they demanded should not be forced to do manual labour or any undignified work in the jail. Soon other Indian prisoners too joined the strike and thus ensued an inspirational saga of human endurance and courage that stirred the conscience of the entire nation. Despite police brutality and repeated attempts of forced feeding, the strikers led by Bhagat Singh carried on their fast for 116 days at the end of which the government had to yield to their demands. Never before on earth have any such incident ever occurred where someone have fasted for 116 longs days in protest for their basic rights.
An avid reader, Bhagat Singh spent the long period of incarceration reading socialist literature. Not only did he read, he also penned down his thoughts in a note book. Bhagat Singh’s 404-page jail diary is replete with his ideas, philosophy and his dreams for the country.
Bhagat Singh vs. Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh, two titans of the Indian freedom movement and inspirational leaders who laid down their lives while seeking emancipation for their countrymen. Committed as they were towards the goal of India’s freedom from British rule, the means they adopted were as different as chalk and cheese. While one spearheaded a civil disobedience movement founded on the principles of nonviolence and Satyagraha, the other waged a revolutionary armed struggle laced with violence towards the British regime.
As a young lad, Bhagat Singh actively took part in the non-cooperation movement and was an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. He earnestly believed that India would indeed gain freedom under Gandhi’s leadership. But when Gandhi called off the movement following the Chauri Chaura riot in 1922, Bhagat Singh became disenchanted with Gandhism and gradually veered towards the tenets of armed revolutionary struggle. Prior to his arrest and subsequent execution, Bhagat Singh led many a valiant attacks against the British machinery.
The pre-eminence of Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh in Indian freedom movement and their distinctly different approaches have spawned many controversies and even conspiracy theories. Most of these stem from Gandhi and the Indian National Congress’ alleged failure to prevent Bhagat Singh’s execution despite enjoying substantial clout with the British government. In fact a number of recent Bollywood movies like ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh’ are replete with subtle insinuations that Gandhi indeed could have done more to save Bhagat Singh’s life.
But Gandhi was an admirer of Bhagat Singh and publicly applauded his patriotism on many occasions. The Mahatma in fact wrote to the Viceroy pleading with him to commute the death sentence of Singh and his accomplices.
They demanded In the issue of Young India of 29 March 1931, Gandhi wrote: “Bhagat Singh and his two associates have been hanged. The Congress made many attempts to save their lives and the Government entertained many hopes of it, but all has been in a vain. Bhagat Singh did not wish to live. He refused to apologise, or even file an appeal. Bhagat Singh was not a devotee of non-violence, but he did not subscribe to the religion of violence. He took to violence due to helplessness and to defend his homeland.
In his last letter, Bhagat Singh wrote, ” I have been arrested while waging a war. For me there can be no gallows. Put me into the mouth of a cannon and blow me off.” These heroes had conquered the fear of death. Let us bow to them a thousand times for their heroism.
But we should not imitate their act. In our land of millions of destitute and crippled people, if we take to the practice of seeking justice through murder, there will be a terrifying situation. Our poor people will become victims of our atrocities. By making a dharma of violence, we shall be reaping the fruit of our own actions.
Hence, though we praise the courage of these brave men, we should never countenance their activities. Our dharma is to swallow our anger, abide by the discipline of non-violence and carry out our duty.”