I still remember a particularly cold January night when I was in my tenth grade, encircling both my hands tightly around a mug containing warm water, which I gulped down at once. In no way was it instrumental in calming the sheer rage I had been feeling for a while then, for not having come across Bhagat Singh’s name or mentions of his ideology in the countless books of history that we were taught in our syllabus on India’s freedom struggle.
I chose to vent frustration over this in my essays during exams prior to the board exams, at the palpable risk of being marked zero. Well, I’ll always choose truth over scores, because it will stand out by permeating the minds of academicians, or anyone, and make them realise how important it is to give people their due in history.
In Punjabi households, Bhagat Singh’s name is synonymous with valor and the wave of ushering the pulse of the freedom struggle in a politically monopolised atmosphere. All over the country, he is revered as a revolutionary who caused much torment across the socio-political spectrum, as the methods he and his friends adopted ate into the colonial foundations of the British Raj. A young fiery revolutionary, who placed overcoming economic inequality of the masses over political freedom, was bound to have his ideological roots tracing back to several watershed movements in the world like the French, Russian and American Revolutions. These movements spearheaded the fight for equality to be cemented as a political and legal reality for millions.
On his 112th birthday on September 28, delving into ideas of his remembrance seems futile. Rather, scratching the depth of his core belief is the need of the hour. His writing titled “Why I am an Atheist” unpacks the mechanism of social institutions and structures of power while making it clear that history has been unfair to people who muster the courage to speak their minds. Ironically, his legacy remains unfazed by this, as the passages mentioned in Kuldip Nayar’s book “Without Fear: The Life & Trial Of Bhagat Singh” makes it amply clear that his ultimate dream was to give up his life for the freedom of his nation with his face wreathed with a broad smile so that many mothers can raise children like him, who knock the door of death themselves, with a purpose for others in their heart!
To give one single thematic coherence to his essay written in 1931 is an incredibly daunting task, as it touches upon so many nuances of how the clutches of powers overpowers the human mind for so long. He acknowledges himself as nothing more than a human being, lays bare the human follies forming the basis of many ideals idolised as truth. He investigates the solace that a human seeks in false and empty pride, unfounded on struggle vis-à-vis experience, which is primarily linked to some form of inherent weakness. His refined skepticism of the many values in society he calls as “obsolete” is perhaps rooted in his unbiased evaluative approach of perceiving everything. He draws factually-based parallels of belief in an all-pervading entity—God, and religion as a set of thoughts with the days he spent with people and ideas in the revolutionary party.
The essay is filled with several anecdotes from his life which made him an evolved and absolute unpretentious non-believer in God or any divine force. The remarkable point he endorses is that beliefs give us a form of support mechanism diminishing the defiance streak, yet, if one’s vanity defies “beliefs held in common esteem by people”, it is an incredible strength. By-passing the Karma theory, Bhagat Singh liberated himself from the thought of rewards for his actions in the next life.
This thirst for liberation, per his thinking, shall establish liberty and peace devoid of shackles of slavery and oppression. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the core of revolutionary thinking, the denunciation of the latter in carrying out the former on logic in analysing people or structure of power recedes us all back to Darkness. The hegemony of religion reduces and even stagnates human awakening on so many fronts. The kind of nourishment with which he feeds this essay is that every person shall criticise the tenet of every religion, sailing towards progress. The efficacy of any faith is not absolved from standing the test of time and reason. No wonder unquestioning belief in Bhagat Singh’s ideology was disastrous on two-pronged levels, as it made a human exaggeratedly reactionary and deprived of understanding! This remarkable piece of writing becomes relevant today by leaps and bounds all attributable to the social and political climate we live in.
He puts some really tough questions before believers, as to why the world isn’t a place that is conducive for a person to stay in peace, and what is the basis of belief which does not let the eyes see the impoverishment and labor of human bones being abused by the Rich? He invokes the wisdom of the shrewd people of the past who played with minds by weighing down the power of reason by building mechanisms of fear.
Bhagat Singh extends beyond faith into the realms of law and jurisprudence to further lend credence to his narrative, stating that even the theories of punishment suffered from the vices of class hierarchy and the luxury of privilege. For some mysterious reason, there is no mention of the fact that the most cursed sin is to be poor, yet poverty is considered a sin. With this premise, he exposes the horrendous nature of the caste system in our society, the manifestations of which continue to exist and are amplified even decades after our freedom struggle. This sort of inequality deliberately keeps people in ignorance and inaccessible from forums of knowledge.
The silence of the “mighty force” over the atrocities inflicted on the innocent makes him question the existence of such a belief. The belief that kept people away from nurturing true humanity within us. He is being very ‘unresistant‘ in calling out the controllers of such belief that whittles down the passage of discussion and concerns somewhere along the way. The sabotaging of religion by power leads to the subjugation of several institutions to tyranny, perpetuating inequality.
The reflection which the reader can find it hard to decipher is that Bhagat Singh is not instilling any kind of hatred, but was brave enough to show us a varied outlook which can save us from narrow connotations. The approach in his essay is directed at explaining extensively his lack of belief in God, but the subjects he wrote upon shall go down in history as a savage account of logic and depth driven by the burning desire for change. Someone who did not mince his words when giving constructive criticism and uncomfortable truth occupy a completely distinct form of space in the historical discourse of ideological territories.
Unfortunately, the fears that Bhagat Singh shared in his work years back have now been normalised and this has come heavily crashing down on any form of well-informed dialogue among people and communities. Its time we take a cue from his essay and work towards a public awakening and the unanimity to pursue the same goals of realistic freedom based on equality.