The year 2017 marks the 86th year of martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar and Shivaram Rajguru. They symbolise the best example of sacrifice to free India from the imperial clutches of British rule. We have kept them at a place in our heart, loaded with emotions. However, we have very less exposure to their visionary battle against British rule. These revolutionaries envisioned India’s future as a nation where there would be social, political and economic freedom. Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, i.e., leaders of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, represented one of the major currents of the freedom movement. One was led by the Indian National Congress, under the leadership of MK Gandhi. However, people like Bhagat Singh and his comrades, EV Ramasamy Periyar, Subhash Chandra Bose, were part of one current, which undoubtedly stood for an egalitarian character and inclusive fabric of India.
However, the present status of our nation is no different in certain aspects from colonial India. It continues to remain alien to the ‘idea’ of India, which was envisioned and worked upon by revolutionaries. How can this be justified?
Continuation of colonial laws in independent India is the very first point of shame for the world’s largest democracy. The law of sedition is the one which has been in the limelight for a few years, as it is being vehemently used by the government in power against artists, NGOs, university students, who stood up for expressing their opinion on sociopolitical issues and against the government’s policies. Recalling the words of MK Gandhi, IPC 124-A “is designed to suppress the liberty of citizens.”
Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were one of the worst victims of this colonial law and were denied even a fair trial by the imperial power for waging a ‘war‘ against HM King George. Their efforts to defeat the colonial power by unmasking their brutality were crushed by the sedition law. Post independence, our nation saw a vigorous misuse of this law against social and political opponents. According to a landmark judgment in the Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar in 1962, it was clearly stated that seditious speech and expression may be punished only if the speech is an incitement to violence or public disorder. Criminalising dissent in a democracy, that too, by using the sedition law and tagging people as ‘anti-national’ is an attempt to make a fool of the common man. The burden of this derogatory and misused law framed by the imperial power is being abandoned in nations like United Kingdom, South Korea, Indonesia, etc. However, it continues to exist in India
The atrocities on Dalits continues to rise in India today. Many in the country today reject the idea of inclusiveness, humanity and equality, for which the revolutionaries had sacrificed their life unconditionally. This includes the beating of Dalit youths in Una, Gujarat or the incident which happened with Dalits in Sonepat, Haryana. The state of Gujarat has witnessed a skyrocketing rise in cases of Dalit atrocities, rapes and murder.
The death of students like Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) or a recent incident in JNU, in which a Dalit scholar J. Muthukrishnan ended his life with words ‘When equality is denied, everything is denied’, clearly shows our failure to eliminate caste-based discrimination. It symbolises hate, deep rooted in our culture altogether, which denies the basic rights to people from the Dalit community, shattering ambitions of attaining humanity. Bhagat Singh wrote an article for the newspaper Kirti under the pen name Vidhrohi in June 1928 named ‘Acchoot Ka Sawaal,’ in which he clearly said, “we are animatedly engaged in a debate whether or not the untouchables are entitled for a sacred thread? Are they allowed to read the Vedas? We whine that some foreign countries do not respect us and the British do not give us equal status. Do we have a right to bemoan all this?” This concern of Bhagat Singh on untouchability hangs our head in shame.
Communalism is a reality which we cannot deny. Especially, when a government works hard to transform a secular, sovereign, socialist, democratic, republic nation into a Hindu Rashtra. Communal riots continue to be used as a tool to disturb the harmony. Any government, irrespective of the party, has utterly failed to get rid of this issue.
Bhagat Singh, in his article, wrote, “class consciousness is required to ensure that people do not fight among themselves. It has to be made very clear to the poor, working class and peasants that their real enemy is capitalism. That is why they have to safeguard themselves from its stranglehold. The rights of all the poor – be they of any caste, colour, religion or region – are the same. Your wellbeing is in overcoming all these differences and remaining united, and strive to take the reigns of power into your hands. With these efforts, you will lose nothing; with these efforts, one day your chains will get cut and you will have economic independence.” Exactly the opposite atmosphere is being created by the political ruling class today. Is it not taking our country back to the colonial era in where the British raj succeeded in playing the card of ‘Divide and Rule’? Today’s rulers are not foreigners but Indians.
After 69 years of Independence, any elected government, either in the state or the centre, did not bother to pay due respect to the contributions of revolutionaries. The notebook which Bhagat Singh kept in jail, the documents of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, HSRA, handwritten pamphlets and articles on social issues must be included in mainstream academia, curriculum, so that it grooms existing and upcoming generations of our society. The Government of Haryana crossed the line of decency when it tried to name the Chandigarh airport after senior RSS leader Mangal Sen, instead of Bhagat Singh. Is this acceptable?
It did not stop here. The ABVP, student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh disrupted a lecture session on Bhagat Singh on the day he was martyred, which was to be given by Prof. Chaman Lal, a renowned researcher on the life of Bhagat Singh.
Such repeated insults are undertaken only by the rightist force, which fears the thought process of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. They don’t want our countrymen to know the ideas for which the young freedom fighters sacrificed their lives.
We did achieve the status of a free nation as per law, but not in terms of establishing equality, where no caste, religion can divide us.We still don’t have answers on how to solve malnutrition, the colossal gap between the rich and poor, farmer’s distress. Why? The insane obsession with a neo-liberal understanding of growth has led us to this shameful situation, which in no manner matches the expectations of our martyrs. Caste prejudices, suppression of the Dalit community, religious fundamentalism, etc. are taking centre stage in politics. This was mercilessly opposed by the martyrs. In the Assembly bomb case judgment of 1929, it was said, “that Bhagat Singh is a sincere revolutionary I have no doubt, that it is to say, he is sincere in the illusion that the world can be improved by destroying the social structure as it now stands and substituting for the rule of law the unrestrained will of the individual.”
It is high time for us to realise the concern of these sincere students of history and re-start our fight against untouchability, communalism, things which are working under the mask of democracy. This will be our real tribute to foot soldiers of the nation’s freedom struggle.