Shaheed Bhagat Singh
(1907 - 1931)
Shaheed Bhagat Singh was a glowing star in the Indian sky who stirred millions with his brave battle against the British. He is the icon of Indian youth and one of the most prominent revolutionaries of Indian freedom struggle. A revolutionary ahead of his times, he took the lead in the underground armed struggle for independence over several years. His clarity of vision, determination, courage and devotion distinguished him from other leaders of the Nationalist movement. “Any sacrifice will be inadequate to accomplish the greatest aim of freeing the mother land” was his nationalistic ideology. His cry “Long Live Revolution” at the British Court of Law echoed in the minds of all Indians. His audacity and sacrifice transfixed the political air inspiring millions. It has been rightly said that, “Nothing in recent memory so captured the popular imagination as did the romance of Bhagat Singh. He has already become a legend and a short of legendary hero. Indian youth justly feels proud of him. His unique courage, his lofty idealism, his undaunted spirit would remain a light-house to guide many a…straying soul.”
Bhagat Singh was born into an eminent Sikh family in the village of Khatkar Kalan in Punjab to Kishan Singh and Vidya Vati on 27 September 1907. His ancestors were Khalsa Sardars who helped the Sikh rulers with life and blood in spreading Sikh Kingdom against the raging Pathans on the east and the repulsive English on the west. His family had many activists who were members in the pro liberation Ghadar Movement during World War I and patriotism deeply imbedded in their blood and spirit. Bhagat Singh was no exception; he was greatly influenced by his forefathers and started fighting for his motherland from a very young age. During his schooling at the D.A.V school in Lahore in 1916, he came into contact with renowned political leaders, Lala Lajpat Rai and Ras Bihari Bose. The ‘Jalianwala Bagh’ massacre that took place in 1919 intensely bothered him that he went there the next day – where the British Indian Army shot down 400 unarmed men, women and children - and collected soil from the spot to keep it as a memento. The incident reinforced his determination to drive British from India.
He became active in the Non-cooperation Movement by Mahatma Gandhi at school. He openly challenged the British by burning his academic books funded by the British Government. Gandhiji cancelled the Non-cooperation movement following the violent incident of ‘Chaura Chaura’ in 1922. Disappointed with this decision, Bhagat Singh withdrew himself from the non-violence movement and joined the Young Revolutionary Movement. By the age of 16, powered by the principles of Marx, Engels and Bakunin, he developed a secular and socialist vision for India. He joined National College in Lahore founded by Lala Lajpat Rai for his under graduation degree in Arts. The college was a hub for his revolutionary activities where he came into contact with revolutionaries such as Bhagwati Charan, Sukhdev Thapar, and many others. He formed ‘Naujavan Bharat Sabha’, a union of revolutionaries in Lahore and initiated the revolution in Punjab. Along with Chandrashekhar Azad, he formed ‘Hindustan Samajvadi Prajatantra Sangha’ in 1926 with an aim of establishing a republic in India using armed revolution. He also joined a radical group called the ‘Hindustan Socialist Republican Association’ and also started contributing write-ups to the magazine ‘Kirti’ of Kirti Kissan Party.
In February 1928, the British Government appointed a review commission called the Simon Commission headed by Sir John Simon. The Commission faced a lot of disapproval even before its landing in India as all its seven members were English. All political parties decided to boycott the Commission and a harthal was declared on the arrival day of the Commission on 3 February 1928 at Bombay. The Commission was greeted with black flags and cries of ‘Simon Go Back’. In Lahore, Lala Rajpat Rai led a large anti-Simon Commission student demonstration on 30 October 1928. Lala Lajpat Rai was brutally stabbed in the police ‘lathi’ charge and later succumbed to injuries after one month. Bhagat Singh plotted to avenge Lala Rajpat Rai’s death by killing Deputy General Scott, the British official who was responsible for the brutal deed. He shot down Assistant Superintendent Saunders mistaking him for Scott. Bhagat Singh fled to Lahore to escape from death sentence and went on hiding.
The Hindustan Socialist Republican Association planned to bomb the Legislative assembly in response to the formulation of Defence of India Act. The Act was a repressive measure of the British which gave more power to the police to arrest individuals and stop processions with suspicious motives. Bhagat Singh offered to throw the bomb where the meeting to the pass the ordinance was being held. It was a well-planned conspiracy, not to cause death or injury, but to draw the attention of the Government to stop its unjust measures against Indians. It was also decided that Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt would court arrest after throwing the bomb. The aim was to “make the deaf hear” and use the court as a revolutionary platform. On 8 April 1929, they threw bomb onto the corridors of the assembly shouting “Inquilab Zindabad”. The bomb did not hurt anyone but as planned, they courted arrest and refused to run away from the scene. Bhagat Singh denied to hire any defence counsel for his trial. He went on hunger strike in jail to protest against the callous treatment of prisoners by the jail authorities. On 7 October 1930, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and Shivram Rajguru were awarded death sentence by a special tribunal. He not only refused to move a mercy petition but also wrote to the Government that he was a revolutionary soldier fighting for the freedom of his country. He wrote, “If the Government thought that a truce had been effected between itself and the people of India, then it is legitimate that the soldiers of freedom should be set free. But if it thought that the state of war continued, then they may easily kill us.” His only appeal was that he might be shot dead by a squad of soldiers, as was only befitting soldiers of war. He and his comrades were hanged to death in Lahore Jail on 23 March 1931. Loud shouts of “Long Live Revolution” were heard from the jail before and after the executions. Their bodies were cremated on the banks of Sutlej in Ferozepur.
Death sentence judgement poster of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru and others in 1930
Despite the fact that Bhagat Singh appeared in the India’s political scene only for a brief period, he became the spur of the spirit and hopes of a new India. He was a nationalist, socialist, democrat and republican – all in one. He lived for India and his only mission was to see his country free from the clutches of the British. Before his execution, he addressed the European Deputy Commissioner with a smile, “Mr. Magistrate, you are fortunate to be able today to see how Indian revolutionaries can embrace death with pleasure for the sake of their supreme ideal.” It is the sacrifice of such fearless martyrs that motivated other freedom fighters to fight persistently for the country’s independence. They still live on and their undying patriotism continues to inspire people who sincerely aspire and work for a better India.
My salute to all the martyrs of the country who battled selflessly and sacrificed their lives so that we breathe the air of freedom and dignity.