September 28, 2017, marks the 110th birth anniversary of Shaheed-e-Aazam Bhagat Singh. On this occasion, I wish to raise a valid concern which still remains unaddressed for millions. As a youth, I want to recapitulate a few precious moments of the Indian revolutionary movement, and relate them to our contemporary state of unrest.
Bhagat Singh did not fight for a Hindu Rashtra or an Islamic State. We need to know his journey from a romantic revolutionary to a true and serious revolutionary thinker. How did this happen? The answer lies in an autobiographical note by Bhagat Singh titled “Why I Am An Atheist“, in which he says, “Study, was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind. Study to enable yourself to face the arguments advanced by the opposition. Study to arm yourself with arguments in favor of your cult. I began to study. My previous faith and convictions underwent a remarkable modification. The romance of violent methods alone, which was so prominent amongst our predecessors, was replaced by serious ideas. No more mysticism, no more blind faith. Realism became our cult.”
The Judiciary of Colonial India properly emphasized, and had respect for, the views of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. 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.” Apart from the British Judiciary, the Indian Judiciary also considered court statement of Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt as important. “Let these momentous words of a convict in British India form part of the judicial record in the last court of our democratic republic, the largest democracy in the world,”, said the Supreme Court of India in the case of “Bhanumati vs the State of UP”. It further added, “The ideas of Bhagat Singh, even if not wholly, have substantially been incorporated in the preambular vision of our Constitution. But the dream for which he sacrificed his life has not been fulfilled and the relevance of what he said can hardly be ignored. The ground realities, if at all, changed only marginally.” The SC proceeded to quote Bhagat Singh: “It may not be out of context to remember what was said by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta on June 6, 1929 in their joint statement in connection with the criminal trial they faced in Crown vs Bhagat Singh.” In this manner, the nation’s apex court also acknowledged Bhagat Singh’s pioneering role in emphasizing socialism.
We need to look beyond the gun-toting nationalist image of Bhagat Singh. The murder of John Poyantz Saunders, and throwing a bomb in the assembly, are what most people tend to fixate on. His balanced, intellectual approach to activism remains a point to ponder upon. If we emphasize the list of books which were recovered from Saharanpur, the intellectual bend of his revolutionary will be transparent. His jail dairy is another example which underlines his intellect. He had command over several different languages. The list of books him and his comrades read is astonishing.
The elimination of rationalists and journalists who are critical of the communal politics of BJP-RSS, and the obscurantist culture of these parties, proves the point that a particular section of society with a rational, progressive mindset is the target of people who unleash violence with the vision of a rabidly intolerant, fascist ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The recent murder of Gauri Lankesh is again a reminder to all who question and voice their dissent. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi met the same fate. But in the truest sense, these people are the Bhagat Singhsof today’s India. Why do I say this? The answer lies in “Why I Am An Atheist”, in which he wrote, “Any man who stands for progress has to criticize, disbelieve and challenge every item of the old faith. Item by item he has to reason out every nook and corner of the prevailing faith.” These words best suit the above-mentioned names, who lost their lives trying to oppose blind faith with logical arguments. Their contributions towards enriching our minds with logical reasoning is an asset for us, which we need to work on. The Manifesto of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, 1925 said, “A branch of peepal tree is cut and religious feelings of the Hindus are injured. A corner of a paper idol, tazia, of the idol-breaker Mohammedans is broken, and ‘Allah’ gets enraged, who cannot be satisfied with anything less than the blood of the infidel Hindus. Man ought to be attached more importance than the animals and, yet, here in India, they break each other’s heads in the name of ‘sacred animals’.”
These words fit the ideals of the Republic of Reason which people like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh tried to courageously envision. Bhagat Singh, in today’s India, would stand up with three objectives: to reject the forcible imposition of theocracy on democracy, to propagate equality for all citizens irrespective of faith, and to preserve the pluralistic foundation of our country.
Democracy is the road to socialism. The only answer to the politics of religion is to question and expose its obscurantist character to the common man, and that can only be done by working with the ideals of Bhagat Singh. Until and unless the democratic institution is saved, how can we think about making socialism a reality? With these words of the Manifesto of Naujawan Bharat Sabha, I will counter the politics of religion– “Religious superstitions and bigotry are a great hindrance in our progress. They have proved an obstacle in our way and we must do away with them. “The thing that cannot bear free thought must perish.” There are many other such weakness which we are to overcome. The conservativeness and orthodoxy of the Hindus, extra-territorialism and fanaticism of the Mohammedans and narrow-mindedness of all the communities in general are always exploited by the foreign enemy. Young men with revolutionary zeal from all communities are required for the task.”
Redoubling our resolve to strengthen our secular, democratic foundation will be the best tribute to Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.