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Revolutionary Bhagat Singh: 87 years of martyrdom

This article is not merely a reiteration of recorded history. Shaheed Bhagat Singh, being the youth icon, needs to be revisited and his thoughts need to be reconsidered in the present social and political context. 

“…‘Long Live Revolution’ and ‘Down With Imperialism’… formed the crux of our ideas… Generally a wrong meaning is attributed to the word ‘revolution’. That is not our understanding. Bombs and pistols do not make revolution…. The sword of revolution is sharpened on the whetting-stone of ideas… By revolution we mean the end of the miseries of capitalist wars… It was very necessary to give the timely warning that the unrest of the people is increasing and that the malady may take a serious turn, if not treated in time and properly. If our warning is not heeded, no human power will be able to stop it. We took this step to give proper direction to the storm. We are serious students of history. We believe that, had the ruling powers acted correctly at the proper time, there would have been no bloody revolutions in France and Russia. Several big power(s) of the world tried to check the storm of ideas and were sunk in the atmosphere of bloodshed. The ruling people cannot change the flow of the current. We wanted to give the first warning.”

Coms. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta

Joint Statement before Lahore High Court in the Assembly Bomb Case, 1929

“I shall even say that Marx – the father of communism – did not actually originate this idea. The Industrial Revolution of Europe itself produced men of this kind. Marx was one among them. Of course, Marx was also instrumental to an extent in gearing up the wheels of his time in a particular way. I (and you too) did not give birth to the ideas of socialism and communism in this country; this is the consequence of the effects of our time and situations upon ourselves. Of course, we did a bit to propagate these ideas, and therefore I say that since we have already taken a tough task upon ourselves, we should continue to advance it.”

Com. Bhagat Singh

Letter to Shaheed Sukhdev regarding suicide, 1930

Times and circumstances have produced great revolutionaries; but being great in themselves, they have far transcended their times and have become eternal. History recalls a countless number of selfless beings, who, without caring a bit about their own comfort, have not hesitated to walk in the perilous path of the glorious revolution. They were those brave-hearts who really preached and practiced the motto of ‘suffering and sacrificing through service’.   

The term ‘revolution’ has been both used and misused, interpreted and misinterpreted by different agencies in different ways. For the established exploitative system and its’ followers, it has always been a politics of bloodshed, the politics of destruction, or merely a cult of deadly arms. Yet for the revolutionaries, it has always remained a sacred term. For them, it has always meant a “longing for a change for the better”.  

The revolutionary socialist from undivided India under British colonial rule, one who seriously read, thought and wrote about the revolutionary struggle of the past, present and the future is none other than Shaheed-e-Azam (Martyr of All Martyrs) Com. Bhagat Singh (28th September, 1907 – 23rd March, 1931). No other revolutionary from India’s freedom struggle had such a detailed perception about mass politics and had such intense ideological clarity. Throughout his active political life, he had been an outspoken atheist and an uncompromising Marxist from the depth of his heart. His critical understanding of the fact that a scientific revolutionary spirit is a necessity for fighting against the imperialist system, makes his contributions worth revisiting, recalling and of course, worth applying in the conduct of our lives at the present political juncture. This article would strive to prove his uniqueness and put his contribution in the revolutionary movement. 

While having in his heart immense respect for his predecessors, that is, the previous anti-imperialist rebels and martyrs of India, Marxist Bhagat Singh made it clear that the idea of fighting the foreign rulers is quite appreciable but cannot be termed as a revolutionary idea. A truly revolutionary movement is always vigilant about the ideal for which it is fighting; it always has in its’ command a concrete programme for the social model which it intends to implement in place of the present. Revolution has no place in it for sanguinary strife; “A rebellion is not a revolution”, Bhagat Singh made it theoretically clear, “It may ultimately lead to that end.”

Fight against British imperialism, for thinker-revolutionary Bhagat Singh, was only the first step in the bigger struggle for the overthrow of the capitalist system itself. The fight cannot stop only with the achievement of political freedom from colonial rule, but would continue until complete socio-economic freedom is achieved and exploitation of man by man and nation by nation is totally brought to an end. He was a consistent propagator of a socialist world federation as the only condition for ensuring everlasting peace and prosperity for humanity.

Bhagat Singh developed his connection with the political field since the time when he was a child, because his house was brewing with revolutionary atmosphere, as nearly all of his family members – especially his father and two uncles were actively involved in anti-imperialist revolutionary activities. His family was indeed famous in the political arena for having participated in the ‘Pagdi Sambhal O’ Jatta’ peasants’ struggle against British colonial policies in 1907, the very year of Bhagat Singh’s birth in Chak No. 105 in village Banga in Lyallpur, Punjab [Now Faisalabad, Pakistan]. Though he himself was born and was nurtured in a political atmosphere, the mass massacres carried out by the British imperialists like the Jallianwala Bagh in April 1919 and Nankana Sahib in February 1921 further added to Bhagat Singh’s distress towards the colonial rule. Taking inspiration from Kuka movement (1872), the first best example of civil disobedience movement in India, and the secular-socialist Ghadar movement (1913-15), Bhagat Singh, a young boy from a rich family of a village in Punjab, was to become the king of all martyrs (‘Shaheed-e-Azam’) from undivided India. 

Bhagat Singh directly entered into the field of revolutionary politics at the age of sixteen-seventeen in 1923, when he left his home for Kanpur-Delhi (Uttar Pradesh) after declining his family’s offer of bringing a bride in the home. Even in that raw age, he was convinced of how a revolutionary lives his life. He was conscious of the fact that a revolution can only be brought by those young men and women, who have the guts to fight against all sorts of personal temptation and are always prepared to die unknown, unwept, unsung and unhonoured. Having reached Kanpur, the hub of working class activities of that time, he built acquaintance with communist leaders and activists, as he was in a search for the ultimate theory of liberation for humanity. He had also built close contacts with the secular-socialist Kirti revolutionary group of Punjab.

While being in the National College in Lahore earlier for a period of three years (1921-23), he was a regular visitor at Dwarkadas Library, where he literally used to devour the books on history and politics. The readers need to keep in mind that Dwarkadas Library had a considerable amount of socialist literature. It was in that library that Bhagat Singh read about the great revolutions in the European countries, the Russian Revolution in particular was what interested him the most. He started to gather up knowledge about the ideals of anarchism and communism which soon developed his affection towards the socialist ideology.

The early adolescent Gandhism in Bhagat Singh arose as a result of his participation in the Non-Cooperation Movement. After the Gandhi-led Non-Cooperation Movement reached to a failure in 1922, fifteen year old Bhagat Singh became convinced of the futility of the Gandhian programme and adopted the path of romantic revolutionism. The romantic revolutionary stayed in him while he was in National College. When he left the college as well as his home in 1923-24 and started working in the revolutionary party named Hindustan Republican Association (Henceforth HRA), the romantic revolutionary was still present. Only after the trial and sentence of the HRA leadership in connection to their association with the Kakori ‘Conspiracy’ Case, that Bhagat Singh and his comrades were compelled to take the reins of the party in their hands. It was during that period of time (1925-28), that Bhagat Singh started to read about the various ideals of the world revolution. Bhagat Singh, under immediate influence, became a believer in individual heroic action and revolutionary anarchism for a limited period. Finally by 1928, he and his comrades were able to commit themselves to the cause of scientific socialism, having understood the present class-based social order that perpetuates exploitation, and the rule of the peasants and workers had become their aim. Though obviously they still had plenty of questions regarding the means to achieve this said ‘classless society’!  

In 1925-26, Bhagat Singh and his comrades, including Ram Chandra and Bhagwati Charan Vohra, formed the mass-based youth organization named Naujawan Bharat Sabha (Henceforth NBS) in Lahore, which was solely dedicated to the organization of the workers and peasants. The NBS was deeply affectionate towards the Russian Revolution and was also inspired by the historic examples of Young Ireland, Young Turkey, Young Italy movements. The NBS worked in close association with the workers’ organizations like the Kanpur Mazdoor Sabha, thus securing a base in the working class movement. Bhagat Singh also encouraged his comrades a lot to read about socialism as well, which he himself did with complete dedication, until the time of his death!

Due to his involvement in mass-organizational work through the NBS, Bhagat Singh was arrested by the Britishers on the basis of false charges against him in May 1927. He was kept in prison for six weeks, and was released after his father paid a bail bond of sixty-thousand rupees! 

The NBS, in its manifesto written by Bhagwati Charan Vohra in 1928, had highlighted:

“Does it require any [heavenly] revelation…to make us realise that we are enslaved and must be free? Shall we wait for an uncertain sage to make us feel that we are an oppressed people? Shall we expectantly wait for divine help or some miracle to deliver us from bondage? Do we not know the fundamental principles of liberty? ‘Those who want to be free- must themselves strike the blow.’ Young men, awake, arise; we have slept too long!

“Were it not the young Russians who sacrificed their lives for Russians’ emancipation? Throughout the last century hundreds and thousands of them were exiled to Siberia for the mere distribution of socialist pamphlets or, like Dostoyevsky, for merely belonging to a socialist debating society. Again and again they faced the storm of oppression. But they did not lose the courage… everywhere the young can fight without hope, without fear and without hesitation. And we find today in the great Russia, the emancipation of the world. While, we Indians, what are we doing? 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’. Our vision is circumscribed by narrow communalism, while the youth of the world thinks in terms of internationalism.…

Religious superstitions and bigotry are a great hindrance in our progress…. “The thing that cannot bear free thought must perish.” There are many other such weaknesses, 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…

“The future programme of preparing the country will begin with the motto: ‘Revolution by the masses and for the masses.’

“…thousands of our most brilliant young men, like Russian youth, will have to pass their precious lives in villages and make the people understand what the Indian revolution would really mean… the revolution, which is to come, will mean more than a change of masters. It will, above all, mean the birth of new order of things, a new state. This is not the work of a day or a year. Decades of matchless self-sacrifice will prepare the masses for the accomplishment of that great work and only the revolutionary young men will be able to do that. A revolutionary does not necessarily mean a man of bombs and revolvers.”

It was in September 1928 that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Bhagwati Charan Vohra and the other revolutionaries from different parts of the country reorganized the HRA and rechristened it into the Hindustan ‘SOCIALIST’ Republican Association (Henceforth HSRA) and a military wing—Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, was created along with it. The intrusion of the word ‘socialist’ in the name of the association meant a clear manifestation of the main party agenda: the establishment of a completely independent socialist republic of the workers and peasants!

The HSRA had the goal of a mass revolution, for which gathering mass support became its’ major organizational task. Bhagat Singh himself had always stressed on the need for “Organization and Publicity”. To draw the support of the masses with regard to what the revolutionaries really want was rightly considered by him to be of utmost value. He drew lesson from history and reached the conclusion that the failure of the earlier revolutionary movements in India was due to the non-participation of the masses.

The HSRA manifesto, also written by Bhagwati Charan Vohra in 1929, maintained: The hope of the proletariat is, therefore, now centred on socialism, which alone can lead to the establishment of complete independence and the removal of all social distinction and privileges.”

It was during the same time in 1928 that the Simon Commission arrived in the country with the promise of introducing a couple of more bourgeois constitutional reforms. This begat no hope in the eyes of the daily toilers: the industrial labourers and the peasants. From 1927-28 onwards, the industrial workers in all the major industrial zones of the country had been in strike since the dark shadow of international capitalist crisis fell on India, too. To ‘normalize’ this condition of nationwide anti-capitalist resistance, the Britishers sent the Simon Commission to India. Countrywide repression by the British imperialists on the workers’ activities followed with shameless brutality.

According to Bhagat Singh, this unprecedented class consciousness of the working class was signifying a new turn in the political life of India, as he was closely engaged in a study of the developments which were taking place in the political atmosphere of India since 1927-28.

In such a condition, the HSRA had to do some daring political actions to rouse the masses of the country into a revolution, which afterwards could be given a socialist direction. It thought of bombing the Simon Commission. But when the Commission arrived in Lahore station on 30th October 1928, it was met with slogans of ‘Simon Go Back’ with the angry Indian masses showing black flags at it. This procession of people in the Lahore station was led by Lala Lajpat Rai, the radical leader. The NBS activists were cordoning Lalaji in the procession, though Bhagat Singh himself was not present in it. Panicked by the rage of the people protesting against the very presence of the all-white Simon Commission, the SSP of Lahore – J. Scott, ordered lathi charge on the protesting mob led by Lalaji, which was executed by DSP J. P. Saunders.

Brutally lathi-charged, Lalaji suffered grave injuries and succumbed to those injuries on 17th November, 1928. The brutal murder of the nation’s tall leader by the imperialist British police was a sheer insult to the oppressed and undivided Indian nation. The HSRA youth decided to avenge the murder, which they did exactly after one month – on 17th December, 1928, the day when DSP Saunders was shot dead by Rajguru and Bhagat Singh, assisted by Jai Gopal and Chandra Shekhar Azad, in front of the police headquarters in Lahore. The HSRA was forced to commit such an action as a matter of “terrible necessity”.

The Saunders’ murder was nothing but a clear ‘propaganda through deed’. After this political murder took place on 17th December 1928 in Lahore, posters of the HSRA, written by Bhagat Singh, were found affixed on the walls in the streets of Lahore on the next, 18th December morning. The posters declared:

“We are sorry to have killed a man. But this man was a part of a cruel, despicable and unjust system and killing him was a necessity…. This Government is the most oppressive government in the world.

 “Do not injure the feelings of a downtrodden and oppressed country. Think twice before perpetrating such diabolical deed, and remember that despite ‘Arms Act’ and strict guards against the smuggling of arms, the revolvers will ever continue to flow in, if no sufficient at present for an armed revolution, then at least sufficient to avenge the national insults.”

The political significance of carrying out such actions was best described by Bhagat Singh himself:

There is no use of killing an individual. These actions have their political significance in as much as they serve to create a mentality and an atmosphere which shall be very necessary to the final struggle. That is all. Individual actions are to win the moral support of the people. We sometimes designate them as the ‘propaganda through deed’.”

The people, as a whole, felt relieved after getting to know that such an action has taken place, and the national insult, that is, the murder of Lalaji, has been avenged by few revolutionaries through the murder of Saunders, though the people were still ignorant about the true ideological basis of the HSRA. 

Bhagat Singh went underground in Calcutta [Now Kolkata] after fleeing away from Lahore on 20th December, 1928. In Calcutta, he attended the All India Conference of Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties as well as the ongoing Congress session, and also talked to some of the Bengali revolutionaries to discuss his future action-plans. Bhagat Singh understood that his time was limited. The HSRA had to do something really sensational, and that too really quick, which would be more intense and politically arousing than even the Saunders’ murder. Such an action should help the revolutionaries to gain active support of the masses and win their hearts at once and for all. Bhagat Singh believed that through another truly sensational and spectacular revolutionary action, the ‘terrorist’ tag put upon them by the Britishers after the murder of Saunders could also be done away with.  

Such an action needed to be planned carefully, by taking into consideration the prevailing political condition of that time—frequented by workers’ agitations, the arrests of the labour leaders, growing communist movement and the talks about constitutional reforms in the air.

One Bengali revolutionary named Jatindranath Das from Calcutta/Kolkata helped a lot in this process envisioned by Bhagat Singh. With his promise and help, the HSRA was able to establish bomb factories in Agra and Lahore in some of the rented houses, where bomb-manufacturing began with full pace.

On March 1929, the Meerut Conspiracy Case trial ensued against the Indian Communists. Around the same time, two bills, namely: the public safety and trade disputes bill were introduced by the Britishers in the assembly, which intensified the countrywide labour resentment. Why? This can be answered by reading the provisions of the bills themselves:

  • The Public Safety Bill: It enabled the British Colonial government to arbitrarily deport the anti-British agitators and snatch away individual liberty. It was especially introduced in order to repress the growing communist activities in India.
  • The Trade Disputes Bill: It contained clauses against the utilization of the trade unions by the industrial workers for the purpose of political coercion of the civil authority.

Interestingly, the British Government was defeated on the anti-people Public Safety Bill in the Select Committee meeting of the Central Legislative Assembly. The anti-worker Trade Disputes Bill was going to be passed and the date of the announcement of the result on its’ voting was fixed on 8th April, 1929: a day which would later become a ‘milestone’ in the entire history of India. 

This was the perfect opportunity of the HSRA to take the action. Bhagat Singh decided to bomb the Central Legislative Assembly to establish the protest of the HSRA against the unjust Public Safety and Trade Disputes Bills. For him, the colonial government had become totally deaf as it was unable to hear the voice rose against it by the masses all over the country. The HSRA had to do the task of opening those deaf ears of the government by means of a loud explosion, that too, without murdering or injuring anyone! The bombs were purposefully not made lethal.

As they thought, so they did. The action was carried out by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta (or B. K. Dutta) on 8th April, 1929, in the Central Legislative Assembly [Now Lok Sabha or the House of the People, the Lower House of the Parliament of divided India], just after the President of the Assembly stood up to give his ruling on the result of the voting on the Trade Disputes Bill. Bhagat Singh intentionally dropped the two harmless bombs from the visitors’ gallery on the empty spaces of the Assembly, so as to avoid human bloodshed, after which they both shouted the slogans “Inquilab Zindabad” [Long Live Revolution!], “Samrajyavad Murdabad/Samrajyavad ki Naash ho” [Down With Imperialism!] and “Workers of the World Unite!”. Slogan-shouting was further accompanied by the throwing of propagandist pink leaflets by the two revolutionaries in the assembly chamber, which reiterated the immortal words of the French anarchist revolutionary martyr, Auguste Vaillant: “IT TAKES A LOUD VOICE TO MAKE THE DEAF HEAR!”  

The revolutionary pink leaflet also stated:

“Let the representatives of the people return to their constituencies and prepare the masses for the coming revolution, and let the Government know that while protesting against the Public Safety and Trade Disputes Bills and the callous murder of Lala Lajpat Rai, on behalf of the helpless Indian masses, we want to emphasize the lesson often repeated by history, that it is easy to kill individuals but you cannot kill the ideas. Great empires crumbled while the ideas survived, Bourbons and Czars fell, while the revolution marched ahead triumphantly… the sacrifice of individuals at the altar of the ‘Great Revolution’… will bring freedom to all, rendering the exploitation of man by man impossible…”

After finishing the action, they both wilfully offered themselves for arrest, so that afterwards they could get the opportunity of using the court as a political platform for the propagation of their communist ideology, which they successfully did. One wonders how a 21 year old can foresee and understand so much in advance! Yeah, true indeed, and this was our Marxist revolutionary Bhagat Singh!

With the historic joint court statement on 6th June, 1929 in the Delhi Sessions Court, Bhagat Singh and B. K. Dutta proclaimed:

A radical change…is necessary and it is the duty of those who realize it to reorganize society on the socialistic basis. Unless this thing is done and the exploitation of man by man and of nations by nations is brought to an end, sufferings and carnage with which humanity is threatened today cannot be prevented. All talk of ending war and ushering in an era of universal peace is undisguised hypocrisy.

By ‘Revolution’, we mean the ultimate establishment of an order of society which may not be threatened by such breakdown, and in which the sovereignty of the proletariat should be recognized and a world federation should redeem humanity from the bondage of capitalism and misery of imperial wars.

This is our ideal, and with this ideology as our inspiration, we have given a fair and loud enough warning.

…a grim struggle will ensure involving the overthrow of all obstacles, and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat to pave the way for the consummation of the ideal of revolution.

Revolution is an inalienable right of mankind. Freedom is an imperishable birth right of all. Labour is the real sustainer of society. The sovereignty of the masses is the ultimate destiny of the workers.

For these ideals, and for this faith, we shall welcome any suffering to which we may be condemned. At the altar of this revolution we have brought our youth as an incense, for no sacrifice is too great for so magnificent a cause. We are content. We await the advent of Revolution.”

While being in jail, Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutta resorted to hunger strike satyagraha to protest against the discriminatory treatment meted out to the Indian political prisoners by the imperialist Britishers from 15th June, 1929, onwards. The hunger strike was later joined in by the other brave revolutionaries of the HSRA, who were arrested in the police raid of the bomb factories after the Assembly Bomb action took place. Our great bomb-expert Jatin Das achieved the title of a ‘martyr’ in the historic hunger strike, after fasting for 63 days, on 13th September, 1929.

Bhagat Singh’s hunger-strike continued for nearly 116 days, with 97 days in one stretch. Despite facing the worst torture in the form of force-feeding, the Indian political prisoners carried on their struggle for the right to equitable and humane treatment. This historic hunger strike was able to arouse the active and heartfelt sympathy of the Indian masses. The socialist revolutionaries of the HSRA, through the assembly bomb action and the hunger strike, had caught upon the imagination of the people of the country and had become the voice of their needs and aspirations. Bhagat Singh had become the symbol of anti-imperialist resistance of the Indian people of the undivided nation.   

Bhagat Singh and B. K. Dutta were already sentenced to transportation for life on 12th June, 1929, in the Assembly Bomb Case. The British colonial administration was fearful not about the ‘person’ Bhagat Singh, but about the communist ideology which he represented with such a daring spirit. Even in the judgement of the assembly bomb case, we find the clear reflection of this fear, when Justice Leonard Middletown admitted:

“These persons [Bhagat Singh and B. K. Dutta] would enter the court with the cries of ‘Long Live the Revolution’ and ‘Long Live the Proletariat’, which clearly shows what sort of political ideology they cherish. In order to put a check in propagating these ideas, I transport them for life.”

It was Bhagat Singh’s contribution to the nation’s revolutionary movement to first publicize the socialist ideological programme of HSRA by means of three slogans: Inquilab Zindabad or “Long Live the Revolution”, “Long Live the Proletariat” and Samrajyavad Murdabad or “Down with Imperialism”. These slogans replaced the nationalistic slogans like “Vandemataram” or “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. This was indeed a qualitative change of perception in the freedom struggle itself, reshaping the destiny of the national movement as a whole.  

On July 1929, the file of the IInd Lahore Conspiracy Case (The Ist Lahore Conspiracy Case was against the Ghadrite Revolutionaries in 1914) was opened in the court of the Special Magistrate in Central Jail, Lahore, putting in trial nearly all the HSRA revolutionaries, for their big ‘crime’ of engaging in a larger revolutionary ‘conspiracy’ against the king emperor, the murder of Saunders being a part of it. Approvers from within the HSRA itself were produced in the court: Phanindranath Ghosh, Jai Gopal and few others had backstabbed their fellow comrades and the HSRA movement.

The HSRA revolutionaries, through their revolutionary statements, and by celebrating ‘days’ like “Lenin Day” and “May Day” in the courtroom, were able to attract the press’ attention. Especially on Lenin Day (21st January, 1930) the Lahore Conspiracy Case ‘accused’ entered into the courtroom wearing red scarves. As soon as the magistrate took his chair they raised the slogans of “Long Live Socialist Revolution”, “Long Live Communist International”, “Long Live People” “Lenin’s Name Will Never Die”, and “Down with Imperialism”. Bhagat Singh then read out the text of a telegram in the court and asked the magistrate to send it to Moscow. The telegram written by Bhagat Singh reads:

“ON LENIN DAY, we send hearty greetings to all who are doing something for carrying forward the ideas of the great Lenin. We wish success to the great experiment Russia is carrying out. We join our voice to that of the international working class movement. The proletariat will win. Capitalism will be defeated. Death to Imperialism.”

Throughout the trial, the HSRA revolutionaries targeted towards uncovering the entire affair of the ‘proceedings’ as a well-planned drama, without showing even an inch of concern for their own juridical ‘defence’! They succeeded in facing the entire trial, rather utilized it by candidly defending and publicizing their communist ideology by exploiting the platform of the court itself. So magnificent were their plan, that even without doing so-called ‘direct mass organizational work’ for many years, the HSRA fellows had gained full mass support within so little a time.  

The admirer of Russian Revolution and Lenin, Bhagat Singh was always miles ahead of his times. He was indeed a great political foreseer. This entire plan was largely the product of his brain, supported by his intellectually sharp comrades like Sukhdev. Attacking the imperialist system from all sides was Bhagat Singh’s prime objective. He attacked the institutions of the imperialist system (The Police, the Parliament, the Court, and the Prison) by means of his well-planned political actions and initiatives. By means of the court and the trial, Bhagat Singh wanted to reach the masses to clear the fact that the revolutionaries are neither terrorists or blood-thirsty monsters, who seek pleasure in destructive activities, nor are they the perpetrators of dastardly outrages, but the revolutionaries in reality have a certain ideology for human liberation on the basis of which they want to reconstitute the world order.

In the jail, Bhagat Singh worked for his own ideological development by reading books and taking notes from them, which today we find in the form of the Jail Notebook. He read more than one-fourty-four books in the jail! His reading list covered a wide-range of authors including: Marx, Engels, Thomas Paine, Rousseau, Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Byron, Thomas Jefferson, Maxim Gorky, George Bernard Shaw, Charles Dickens, Upton Sinclair, Tennyson and many more renowned authors. His main area of study was politics, history, sociology and economics. He had a deep love for Urdu poetry, too!  He also had said to have composed four manuscripts which are now unfortunately lost, namely: The Ideal of Socialism, Autobiography, History of Revolutionary Movements in India and At the Door of Death.

In a short message to the Punjab Students’ Conference held in Lahore in October 1929, Bhagat Singh told the youth:

“Today, we cannot ask the youth to take to pistols and bombs. Today, students are confronted with a far more important assignment… The youth will have to spread this revolutionary message to the far corner of the country. They have to awaken crores of slum-dwellers of the industrial areas and villagers living in worn-out cottages, so that we will be independent and the exploitation of man by man will become an impossibility.”

This, in my view, is the perfect message for the present-day youth as well.

Here, a question may arise. How did such a matured political visionary come into existence within a few years? About this, Bhagat Singh has written in his autobiographical note, “Why I am an Atheist” (1930):

“Study was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind… the romance of the 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. Use of force justifiable when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity: non-violence as policy indispensable for all mass movements.”

As recalled by his comrades, he was a great orator as well as a prolific writer. He began his writing career from 1924, at the age of sixteen-seventeen. From then on, he has continued to write on topics like Punjab’s Language and Script, Internationalism, Communalism, Casteism, Religious Fundamentalism, Peasants’ Struggle, Anarchism, Nihilism et cetera. Bhagat Singh’s series of small bio-sketches of the Indian revolutionary martyrs also needs a special mention in this case. These writings have been published during his lifetime in magazines such as Kirti, Matwala, Maharathi and Chand. He had worked for Arjun and Pratap press as a journalist, too. Bhagat Singh’s most-celebrated essay “Why I am an Atheist” was first published after his martyrdom in 1931, in Lala Lajpat Rai set-up weekly ‘The People’.

As a thinker-revolutionary, Bhagat Singh’s lifetime crusade against the communalist, casteist and fundamentalist forces of his times alongside his fight against colonialism-imperialism is a big reminder in our revolutionary struggle at the present, when the very same anti-humanist forces are playing together their dirty game of “Divide-and-rule” in the political front.  

Let us now return to the historic Lahore Conspiracy Case.

The under-trial revolutionaries of the HSRA, understanding that the game of trial was nothing but a farce, stopped participating in its’ proceedings. This slowed down the whole process of the magisterial trial itself. The then British imperialist viceroy Lord Irwin was forced to pass an ordinance (Ordinance III of 1930), setting up a ‘Special Tribunal’ to ‘deal with the case’ and pass the verdict, which was already fixed up earlier. From May 1930, the so-called ‘trial’ of the Lahore Conspiracy Case, under the conduct of the Special Tribunal, proceeded with “No Vakeel, No Daleel, No Appeal” under the ordinance (exactly like what had happened in the earlier case of the Ghadrite revolutionaries in 1914)! This was a great victory on the part of the HSRA revolutionaries, who had succeeded in throwing off the fake mask of ‘legality’ from the face of the unjust judiciary of the rotten imperialist order.  

In the eyes of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, imperialism is:

“…a vast conspiracy organized with predatory motives. Imperialism is the last stage of development of insidious exploitation of man by man and of nation by nation. The imperialists, with a view to further their piratical designs, not only commit judicial murders through their law courts but also organize general massacres, devastations and other horrible crimes like war. They feel no hesitation in shooting down innocent and unarmed people who refuse to yield to their depredatory demands or to acquiesce in their ruinous and abominable designs. Under the garb of custodians of ‘law and order’, they break peace, create disorder, kill people and commit all conceivable crimes.”

Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were sentenced to death by hanging by the Special Tribunal on 7th October, 1930. Some of the other revolutionaries were given life transportation, some were sentenced to imprisonment for a few years and some were acquitted due to lack of evidence.

A lot of petitions by public-spirited lawyers against this judgement swept India as well as the Privy Council in England. Bhagat Singh Defence Committees sprang up throughout the country. Due to this, the date of hanging, which was set in the month of October itself, was delayed.

Finally, the sentence of hanging was executed on 23rd March, 1931 in a great hurry, at 7 pm in the evening in the Lahore Central Jail. This was clearly against the basic jail rules as hangings always take place in the morning. On the basis of which, the date earlier was fixed on 24th March morning. This sudden change of the execution time was probably because of the people’s ever-growing agitation outside the jail, which might had put the British colonial authority in a state of panic.

The three revolutionaries shouted the slogans of “Inquilab Zindabad” and “Samrajyavad Murdabad”, while kissing the noose with bold and smiling faces. The other prisoners from their lock-ups in the Lahore Central Jail joined their voices to shout the same slogans. These shouts of the slogans reached the ears of the crowd outside the jail, who apprehended that the executions were taking place. The people in a state of shock began to investigate the matter and tried to know what was really going on inside the Lahore Central Jail, for which no answer came. This caused the scared British officials to cut the bodies of the new-born martyrs into pieces and after loading those pieces in some sacks, took them away from the backside of the jail in a truck towards the Sutlej-Beas convergence near Ferozepur, where they burnt the body pieces by scattering kerosene on them in a hurrying manner. After perpetrating this foul deed, the officials and their allies escaped. The people from Ferozepur and Lahore reached the burning place after considerable search on the dawn of 24th March Morning. Some half-burnt bones, stains of blood were discovered in the place, from where the smell of kerosene was coming. This naturally made the people more angry and furious over the barbaric colonial authority. These half-burnt pieces of bone and flesh were recovered by the enraged people who ultimately gave the three martyrs a proper funeral procession on the very day and the three revolutionary icons (rather few of their body parts!!!) were cremated beside river Ravi, exactly by the place where Lala Lajpat Rai was cremated earlier. It was a huge funeral procession, in which nearly 45,000 men and women joined and shouted the slogans out loud: “Bhagat Singh Zindabad!” “Sukhdev Zindabad!” “Rajguru Zindabad!”

The last book read by Bhagat Singh was Com. Clara Zetkin’s Reminiscences of Lenin, which he was not able to finish. When he was requested by the jail warder to take the name of the almighty God before hanging, atheist-Marxist Bhagat Singh declined the offer and instead passed his final hours by engaging in a conversation with Lenin. Indeed, the reading of the Reminiscences, for Bhagat Singh, was like meeting Lenin in person. As told by Bhagat Singh’s niece Verinder Sandhu: “Who was closer to Bhagat Singh than Lenin?” When asked about his last wish, Bhagat Singh said that he wanted to eat the food prepared by the so-called ‘untouchable’ sweeper of the jail, whom Bhagat Singh lovingly used to call ‘Bebe’ or Mother. This last wish of Singh was also a clear rebellion against the class-caste system. But this last wish of our Shaheed-e-Azam was not fulfilled due to the hurry of the colonial authority in carrying out the executions beforehand.       

Bhagat Singh once had said: 

“Bhagat Singh dead, will be more dangerous to the British enslavers than Bhagat Singh alive. After I am hanged, the fragrance of my revolutionary ideas will permeate the atmosphere of this beautiful land of ours. It will intoxicate the youth and make him mad for freedom and revolution, and that, will bring the doom of the British Imperialists nearer. This is my firm conviction.”

In the last meeting with his comrades, Bhagat Singh had beautifully said:

“When I set foot on the path of revolution I thought if I could spread the slogan of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ to every nook and corner of India, by sacrificing my life I would think that I got the value of my life. Today when I am behind the iron bars of this cell I can hear the roaring sounds of that slogan rising from the throats of crores of my countrymen. I believe that this slogan will be hitting the imperialists hard as a driving force of the freedom struggle till the end.” Then stopping for a while he said with his innate smile: ‘What more price could there be of so short a life?’”

In a petition to the Punjab Governor on 20th March, 1931, the revolutionary trio- Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, had requested the colonial authority to send a firing squad to carry out their executions, instead of getting them hanged. The reason behind this was the fact that they were war prisoners, who were sentenced to death for participating in a war against King George of England. They also wrote: 

“Let us declare that the state of war does exist and shall exist so long as the Indian toiling masses and the natural resources are being exploited by a handful of parasites. They may be purely British Capitalist or mixed British and Indian or even purely Indian. They may be carrying on their insidious exploitation through mixed or even on purely Indian bureaucratic apparatus. All these things make no difference… The war shall continue.

It may assume different shapes at different times. It may become now open, now hidden, now purely agitational, now fierce life and death struggle… It shall be waged ever with new vigour, greater audacity and unflinching determination till the Socialist Republic is established and the present social order is completely replaced by a new social order, based on social prosperity and thus every sort of exploitation is put an end to and the humanity is ushered into the era of genuine and permanent peace. In the very near future the final battle shall be fought and final settlement arrived at.

The days of capitalist and imperialist exploitation are numbered. The war neither began with us nor is it going to end with our lives. It is the inevitable consequence of the historic events and the existing environments.” 

Shaheed-e-Azam Com. Bhagat Singh needs to be seriously placed in the revolutionary tradition of Marxism-Leninism. All attempts by the capitalist henchmen of projecting him in entirely wrong lights should be condemned in every possible way. The general Congress perception of Bhagat Singh holds him just as a brave nationalist martyr, while ignoring his internationalist standpoint. Some hold him as a “Sikh revolutionary”, while avoiding his atheist standpoint. More injustice is being done currently by the Hindutvavadi far-rightist elements, who try to appropriate the very legacy of the martyr by uttering bogus things like: “Bhagat Singh believed in a hindu rashtra.” etc. etc., the people must learn to ignore such false and nonsensical propaganda, and it falls under the tasks of the progressive and free-minded youth to provide the people with the true projection of revolutionary Bhagat Singh’s Marxist-Leninist ideological standpoint. To pursue that task, the careful study of the available statements, letters and writings of Bhagat Singh is necessary. His writings should be disseminated to all the progressive sections of the society, and a true tribute to the immortal revolutionary legacy and supreme sacrifice of the HSRA revolutionaries could only be paid through this.   

Acknowledgements: Chaman Lal, Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich and Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay

 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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