The Forgotten Heroes

bhagat-singh-ph-2.gifMarch 23 is the death anniversary of one of the most heroic figures of the Indian freedom movement. Few people remember it though. Forget the rest of the country, even the children of the village where he was born, do not know anything about him. The Free Press Journal in its issue of 24th March 1931 wrote: “S. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev live no longer. In their death, lies their victory, let there be no mistaking it. The bureaucracy has annihilated the mortal frame. The nation has assimilated the immortal spirit. Thus, shall Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev live eternally to the dismay of the bureaucracy…”.

To the nation, Bhagat Singh and colleagues will ever remain the symbols of martyrdom in the cause of freedom. In case you don’t know, March 23 is observed as Balidan Divas.

Bhagat Singh and his compatriots shook the British Empire and their views infused an aggressive spirit in the fight for Independence. The fear of Bhagat Singh among the British was such, that after executing him along with the great Sukhdev and Rajguru at 7.33pm, the jail authorities cut the bodies of these revolutionaries into pieces and stuffed them in jute bags. The bags were burned on the banks of the River Sutlej. It was done to prevent outrage against the government on seeing the bodies of the martyrs.

Bhagat Singh was one of the most prominent heroes of the Indian freedom struggle. He was a revolutionary ahead of his times. Bhagat Singh was born in village, Banga in the Layalpur district of Punjab (now in Pakistan) in a Sikh family on 27 September 1907. The third son of Sardar Kishan Singh and Vidyavati, Bhagat Singh’s family was actively involved in the freedom struggle. His uncle Ajit Singh and father Kishan Singh were members of the Ghadr Party founded in US to oust British rule from India.

In 1916, young Bhagat Singh came into contact with well-known political leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Ras Bihari Bose while studying at the local DAV School, in Lahore. Punjab was very politically-charged those days. When Jalliawalan Bagh massacre took place in 1919, Bhagat Singh was only 12 years old. The massacre deeply disturbed him. Bhagat Singh went to Jalliawalan Bagh and collected the soil from the spot and kept it as a memento for the rest of his life, the day after the massacre. The cruel killings had strengthened his resolve to drive out the British from India.

From 1923, to the time of his execution, in 1931, he dedicated himself to the liberation of the motherland. He gave a new direction to revolutionary movement in India and formed the ‘Naujavan Bharat Sabha’ to spread the message of revolution in Punjab. He formed the ‘Hindustan Samajwadi Prajatantra Sangha’ along with Chandrasekhar Azad to establish a republic in India. Bhagat Singh killed the police officer, Saunders to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. He dropped two bombs in Central Legislative Assembly along with Batukeshwar Dutt. However, his intentions were not cruel, as the bombs were thrown in such a way that they did not hurt anyone. After that, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt, deliberately courted arrest by refusing to run away from the scene.

Meanwhile, friends of Bhagat Singh who turned ‘approvers’ identified the killers of Saunders. During his trial, Bhagat Singh refused to employ any defense counsel. In jail, he went on hunger strike to protest the inhuman treatment of fellow political prisoners by jail authorities. On 7 October 1930, Bhagat Singh, Sukh Dev and Raj Guru were awarded death sentence by a special tribunal. Despite great popular pressure and numerous appeals by political leaders of India, Bhagat Singh and his associates were hanged on March 23 1931.

Bhagat Singh is dead; yet, he lives on. He is idolised by youngsters who wish to bring about a change in the society. The fact that Bhagat Singh still lives in our hearts, is thanks to films like ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ and ‘Rang De Basant’i. The latter revived the spirit of Bhagat Singh. Generation X awoke from its slumber and came together to demand justice of Priyadarshani Mattoo, Jessica Lal and led a fight against reservations. They also fought against unfavourable amendments in the Right To Information Act. A generation has awakened and it’s the beginning of a new era where the youth is breathing rebellion.

I would like to conclude with a quote from Bhagat Singh’s jail notebook: “I also wish my friends to speak little or not at all about me, because idols are created when men are praised, and this is very bad for the future of the human race. Acts alone, no matter by whom committed, ought to be studied, praised or blamed. Let them be praised in order that they may be imitated when they seem to contribute to the common wealth. Let them be censured when they are regarded as injurious to the general well being, so that they may not be repeated. I desire, that on no occasion whether near or remote, nor for any reason whatsoever, shall demonstration of a political or religious character be made before my remains, as I consider the time devoted to the dead would be better employed in improving the conditions of the living most of whom stands in great need of this.”

Bipan Chandra has rightly concluded in the 1970s book on Bhagat Singh, ‘Why I am an Atheist’, that “it is one of the greatest tragedies of our people that this giant of a brain was brought to a stop so early by the colonial authorities.”

It is the nature of colonialism and imperialism to cause such tragedies, be it in India or Vietnam, in Iraq, Palestine, or Latin America. But the people do avenge these crimes by yet more ferocious struggles against imperialism, if not today, then tomorrow. Our task is to keep the memory of our martyrs fresh, and by doing so we prepare the victories of tomorrow.

Rishabh Srivastava

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