Bhagat Singh’s Warning Against Communalism Is A Lesson To Recall

Posted by Saurav Kumar in History
February 4, 2018

Shaheed Bhagat Singh, a name known to millions is remembered for unforgettable daring acts during the nation’s freedom struggle. Bhagat Singh is considered to be a great martyr, but his credentials as a journalist has a rich legacy to recall where he worked with known newspapers of his times.

As a young writer he wrote extensively on social issues, Indian politics, culture, language but the among them one article which still finds immense relevance in India of 2018 is – sampardayik dange aur unka elaj, that first came in print in “Kirti” in 1927. Bhagat Singh in 1920’s acknowledged the birth of organizations like RSS and Tablighi Jamaat with Hindutva extremism and Muslim fundamentalism. Both had a three dimensional polarizing aim – first, on society with its people, second on the political leadership and third on the Hindi and Urdu press of the times. Few passages from his writing are worth discussion as given below-

Political Role Behind Riots

He was convinced about political role behind riots. So he did a scathing attack on political leaders – India’s future appears extremely depressing. These religions have wrought havoc to India and one does not know when the scourge of such horrendous communal riots will come to an end and India will be freed from them — from such religious riots.
As put in this article“…At the moment, political leaders of India are conducting themselves so shamelessly. Those very leaders, who had sweared and vowed to liberate the country and had proclaimed of undertaking the great responsibility for that purpose, never tiring of talking about ‘common nationality’ and who had been vociferous in declaring their faith in the attainment of “Swaraj”, so unflinchingly and devotedly in the past, these very same leaders are now either keeping mum with their heads bowed in shame or are swaying along with the raging wind of blind religious bigotry.”

Role Of Media Behind Riots

He expressed his skeptical view over media’s role in communalism – those others, instrumental in fomenting communal riots, and playing the key-role in it, are newspapermen. The profession of journalism, considered to be esteemed once upon a time, has now been reduced to rubbish. They are blaring out against each other in screaming headlines, besides inciting people’s savage bigoted passions for unleashing the orgy of mutual killings, not confined to one or two places, but in a number of places communal conflagration broke out, simply because newspapers penned down explosive and highly provocative articles, while such writers who were able to keep their hearts and minds clean and were able to maintain a balanced poise in those turbulent times were barely few. He categorically spelt out the duties of journalists and then also accused them of dereliction of duty.

He wrote, “The real duty of the newspapers is to educate, to cleanse the minds of people, to save them from narrow sectarian divisiveness, and to eradicate communal feelings to promote the idea of common nationalism. Instead, their main objective seems to be spreading ignorance, preaching and propagating sectarianism and chauvinism, communalizing people’s minds leading to the destruction of our composite culture and shared heritage.”

A Solution To Riots

Bhagat Singh was among the pioneer revolutionary thinkers to identify the economic reasons behind the growth of communalism and communal riots. He clearly states: “The narrow-mindedness of all the communities in general are always exploited by the foreign enemy.”

Questioning about what can be the probable cure for this disease of communalism and riots, he answers: “Now, if at all there is a cure for all the riots, then it can be brought about only by changing the course of direction of nation’s economic trajectorybut, it is difficult to bring about a change in the current economic conditions…That is why people have to consistently fight the government and until the government is changed, they should not rest.

Clearly, Bhagat Singh sees the class interests behind the spread of communal poison and in order to strike at the root of the problem, he calls upon for rousing the class consciousness of the people and he states – “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.”

Parallel To Contemporary India

In contemporary times, India is facing exactly the same problem of riots with an instigative role played by political leaders and media. A fresh example was seen during Kasganj violence in Uttar Pradesh on which a senior journalist of Zee News aired a program title– “Bharat Mein Tiranga Fehraya Toh Danga”. In reality this was not the case.

Organizations like RSS, VHP have expanded ways to polarize society not only on religious lines but also on caste lines. I say this with two examples – Saharanpur Riots in 2017 was between high caste Thakurs and Dalits in which open physical violence was unleashed on Dalit women in which 55 Dalit houses were set on fire by the mob and several Dalits, including women and children, were grievously injured.

Recent clashes in Bhima Koregaon again show desperation of rightist force to obstruct and suppress voice of Dalits. Every January 1, Dalits, mainly Mahars, congregate at Bhima Koregaon to pay respects at the Vjiay Stambh, or victory memorial, there. It is an article of faith for them. On this day in 1818, a few hundred Mahar soldiers in the British Army are said to have managed to inflict damage and force a retreat from Koregaon of the forces of the Peshwas, a regime infamous for its brutal oppression of the lower castes. The term often used in these parts for that event is “Peshwai Gadhli”: the Peshwa regime has been buried.

In 1927, BR Ambedkar paid tribute here to Mahar soldiers on New Year’s Day, and the practice has continued every year since. The rightist force led by Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote succeeded to make it a battle between Maratha community and the Dalit community. Behind communal riots, RSS and few Hindutva groups have been specially named by different Indian Judicial Commissions such as:

  • Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission, on the  Mumbai riots of 1992–1993
  • Report of the Justice D.P. Madon Commission on the  Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad of 1970
  • Report of the Justice Joseph Vithyathil Commission on the Tellicherry riots, 1971
  • Report of the Justice Jagmohan Reddy Commission on the Ahmedabad riots of 1969
  • Report of the Justice Venugopal Commission on the Kanyakumari riots of 1982 between Hindus and Christians
  • Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Communal Disturbances at Jamshedpur, April 1979  

Bhagat Singh’s article is a reminder and rejoinder against communalism of every kind. Communal harmony with religious unity for Bhagat Singh were just not issues but were lofty ideals on which life could have been sacrificed without hesitation. Today’s time demands to separate religion from politics so that we can work on sociopolitical matters for nation’s peace and prosperity.