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 Singhs 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 Singhs 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
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
Lajpat Rai received a direct hit the Lalas 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
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 readers 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.