July 26th, 1998
Akhilesh Mithal

Long Live the Revolutionaries!

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It took superhuman courage for an Indian to stand up to British atrocity.




bhagatsingh.gif (28299 bytes)
Amar Chitra Katha
-- Bhagat Singh

Picture from Kalranga Archives
Bhagat Singh



It was Spring 1931. India was ruled by the most powerful nation in the world, the British. “The sun never set on their empire.” They held India in a vice-like grip and appropriated all its resources as it pleased them without let or hindrance.

The Punjab had been savaged by the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre on April 13, 1919 and it took superhuman courage for an Indian to stand up to British atrocity. On March 24, 1931, an official notice pasted on the walls of the most prominent places in Lahore read:

“The public is hereby informed that the dead bodies of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev who were hanged yesterday evening (March 23) were taken out of the jail to the banks of the Sutlej where they were cremated according to Sikh and Hindu rites and the remains thrown into the river.”(Sd. Deputy Commissioner, Lahore)

The Sutlej is over 30 miles from Lahore. Lahore has its own river, Ravi. Hangings are almost always carried out at dawn. The departures from normal practice were a tribute to the image built up by the condemned men. They had forced the mightiest empire in the world to act in a surreptitious and cowardly manner in executing the heroes and disposing off their mortal remains.

Bhagat Singh’s portrait instantly became the favoured icon of the people. A head and shoulders view showed him with aquiline nose, piercing eyes, an upturned pointed moustache and a clean shaven chin — the whole under the shadow of a felt hat with just a hint of the raffish tilt making for a most attractive possession.

These badges soon became objects of reverence for people who looked at them and wept bitter tears. The Brits banned them and ill-treated anyone found wearing them or even owning them. Today, if any survive they would be most treasured.

Songs were made about the hero. One said, “Bhagat Singh tumhey phir sey aanaa pudeygaa!” (O my hero Bhagat Singh, you will have to return for a second coming). This was to make sure that the incomplete mission of winning freedom could be brought to fruition.

The subsequent civil disobedience movement which was called by Mahatma Gandhi and therefore eschewed and forswore violence, had the Bhagat Singh song echoing in the jail barracks and the Black Maria (it was used to carry prisoners to courts and jails). What kind of man was this Bhagat Singh?

The answer is not easy to provide. Independence came 16 years later in 1947. With it came the Partition and the Pakistanis could not be seen to be honouring a non-Muslim. The British incinerated an unknown number of files and papers just before handing over power.

Bhagat Singh’s last years of life were spent in hiding from an ever-vigilant police. The ones who were in contact with him, all perished. How does one get a picture to project? Fortunately, we have a book called Lahore, A Memoir (published by Vanguard, Pakistan and written by Muhammed Saeed) which has contemporary and eyewitness accounts.

Saeed writes: “In the autumn of 1928, I saw a dense crowd around the porch engaged in a scuffle with the police. Lathis were rising and falling in the midst of a confused scene.

When the crowd tried to force its way to the platform, DIG (Deputy Inspector General) Scott ordered an impetuous, tactless almost raw police officer, Saunders, to bar the way. In his blind stupidity, this officer used more force than was necessary.

Lajpat Rai received a direct hit — the Lala’s skull was broken along with a few ribs — the injuries aggravated his condition and he died on November 17. The younger, volatile element headed by Bhagat Singh now had Scott heading their hit list.” As Saeed does not narrate the slaying of Scott, we relate it from other sources.

“Chandra Shekhar Azad, Rajguru, Bhagat Singh and another assembled near the office of the Senior Superintendent of Police... Saunders, mistaken for Scott, emerged at 4.47 pm when Rajguru darted up and shot at him hitting him in the head.

He fell and Bhagat Singh ran up and fired five or six shots into his body. “The assailant appeared extraordinarily self-possessed as he turned his back on the scene and walked away nonchalantly with his hands in his pockets.”The government of India (British at the time) responded by imposing severe draconian measures like the Trades Disputes Bill.

On April 8, 1929, the Central Legislative Assembly proceedings began with the president giving his ruling on the Trades Dispute Bill. He next said, “I now proceed to give my ruling on the Public Safety Bill.” Before he could finish, the hall reverberated with the noise of the explosions caused by two bombs thrown on the floor followed by two revolver shots fired in the air in quick succession.

Panic overwhelmed the members and the visitors who ran helter-skelter and a pandemonium ensued.The bombs and the revolver shots had not been aimed at anybody. The two young men responsible were throwing leaflets into the air. This was the Manifesto of Hindustan Republican Party.

It read: “It takes a loud voice to make the dead hear”.With these words uttered at a similar occasion by a valiant French martyr, we strongly justify this action of ours. Without repeating the humiliating history of the past 10 years of the working of the reforms and without mentioning the atrocities hurled down upon the head of the Indian nation through this House, the so-called “Indian Parliament,” we want to point out that while the people are expecting some crumbs of reforms from the Simon Commission and are even quarrelling over the distribution of the expected bones, the government is thrusting upon us repressive measures like the Public Safety and the Trades Dispute Bills while reserving the Press Bill for the next season.

The indiscriminate arrests of labour leaders — clearly indicate the direction in which the wind blows.In these extremely provocative circumstances, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association in all seriousness and realising its full responsibility has decided and ordered its Army to do this particular action so that a stop be put to this humiliating force and to let the alien bureaucratic exploiters do what they wish but to make them come before the public eye in their mailed fist or real form.

Let the representatives of the people return to their constituencies and prepare the masses for the coming revolution and let the government know while protesting the Public Safety and Trade Disputes Bills and the callous murder of Lala Lajpat Rai that we wish to emphasise that ‘You can kill individuals but you cannot kill ideas.’ Great empires have crumbled but ideas have survived.”

The reader’s attention is drawn to the last para of the leaflet in order to show the place held by the sanctity for life in the hearts of the youths. “We are sorry that we who attach such great sanctity to human life, we who dream of a very glorious future when man will be enjoying perfect peace and full liberty, have been forced to shed human blood.

But sacrifice of individuals at the altar of the revolution will bring freedom to all rendering exploitation of man by man impossible. Inquilaab Zindaabad (Long live the revolution).”A separate column can deal with the heroic behaviour of the Indian revolutionaries after the spectacular surrender to the authorities they considered illegal, immoral and criminal.

Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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