Shaheed Bhagat Singh: Symbol of Bravery

via V. N. Gopalakrishnan published on March 10, 2011

Bhagat Singh was a freedom fighter and one of the most famous revolutionaries of the Indian Independence Movement. He is often referred to as Shaheed Bhagat Singh (Shaheed means martyr). It is also believed that he was one of the earliest Marxists in India. Though portrayed as a terrorist by the British, Bhagat Singh was critical of the individual terrorism which was prevalent among the revolutionary youth of his time and called for mass mobilization. He gave a new direction to the revolutionary movement and a goal beyond the elimination of the British. A clarity of vision and determination of purpose distinguished Bhagat Singh from other leaders of his time. Bhagat Singh studied the European revolutionary movement and was greatly attracted towards socialism. He realised that the overthrow of British rule should be accompanied by the socialist reconstruction of Indian society and for this political power must be seized by the workers.

Bhagat Singh was born in a Sikh family in Banga village of Layalpur district in Punjab (now in Pakistan) on September 27, 1907 as the third son of Sardar Kishan Singh Sandu and Vidyavati. His family was actively involved in freedom struggle. His father and uncle Ajit Singh were members of ‘Ghadr Party’ founded in the U.S. to throw out British rule from India. It was led by Kartar Singh Sarabha, a freedom fighter and Bhagat Singh’s mentor. Arya Samaj had a vast impact on the life of Bhagat Singh’s father who named his son as Bhagat Singh meaning ‘devotee’.

While studying at the local D.A.V. School in Lahore, young Bhagat Singh came into contact with political leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Ras Bihari Bose in 1916. In 1919, when Jalianwala Bagh massacre took place, over 400 innocent people were killed and thousands were injured. Bhagat Singh was only a 12 year old boy at that time. The massacre deeply disturbed him and strengthened his resolve to drive out the British from India. On the next day of the massacre, Bhagat Singh went to Jalianwala Bagh and collected soil from the spot in his lunch box sanctified by the blood of the innocent and kept it as a memento for the rest of his life!

In 1923, Bhagat Singh won an essay competition set by the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. This got the attention of the members of the organization including Prof. Bhim Sen Vidyalankar, its General Secretary. He read a lot of poetry and literature written by Punjabi writers and Allama Iqbal was his favourite poet. In response to Mahatma Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation against the British rule in 1921, Bhagat Singh left his school and actively participated in the movement. However, in 1922, when Gandhiji suspended the Non-cooperation movement against violence at Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur, Bhagat Singh was greatly disillusioned. His faith in non-violence weakened and he came to the conclusion that armed revolution was the only practical way of winning freedom.

Bhagat Singh joined the National College in Lahore, founded by Lala Lajpat Rai in order to pursue his studies. It was the centre of revolutionary activities and there he came into contact with revolutionaries such as Bhagwati Charan, Sukhdev and others. To avoid an early marriage, Bhagat Singh ran away from home and went to Kanpur. There, he came into contact with Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and learnt his first lessons as a revolutionary.

Bhagat Singh formed a union of revolutionaries in Lahore by name Naujavan Bharat Sabha which spread the message of the revolution in Punjab. He also joined Hindustan Republican Association, which was headed by Ashfaqulla Khan and Ram Prasad Bismil. Later on, he became its leader. He was also involved in writing and editing some Punjabi and Urdu newspapers published from Amritsar. In 1928 he attended a meeting of the revolutionaries in Delhi and came into contact with Chandrasekhar Azad. They formed Hindustan Samajvadi Prajatantra Sangha with the objective of establishing a republic in India by means of an armed revolution.

Indians wanted proper representation in running the administration to which British reciprocated only on paper. Noticing restlessness was spreading, the British Government appointed a Commission under the leadership of Sir John Simon in February 1928, to report on political happenings. However, there was no Indian on the Committee which angered the people and they decided to boycott Simon Commission when it planned to visit major cities of India. In Lahore, Lala Lajpatrai and Pandit Madan Mohan Malavia organised a silent protest march to the Commission. Thousands joined the march, without giving room for any untoward incident. Even then, Deputy Inspector General Scott beat Lala Lajpatrai severely with a lathi on the head several times and finally he succumbed to the injuries. Bhagat Singh was determined to avenge Lajpat Rai’s death by shooting Scott, the British official responsible for the killing. Because of a mistaken identity, J. P. Saunders, a Deputy Superintendent of Police was shot instead of Scott. Immediately after that, Bhagat Singh left Lahore and he also shaved his beard and cut his hair to avoid recognition.

The British government took to more repressive measures. Though the Defence of India Act brought in the Central Legislative Assembly was defeated by one vote, it was passed in the form of an ordinance. In protest, Bhagat Singh volunteered to throw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly where the meeting was held.

On April 8, 1929 Bhagat Singh and Dutt threw handouts, and bombed in the corridor not to cause injury and courted arrest after shouting slogans Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live, Revolution!). Meanwhile the killers of J.P. Sanders were identified by the treachery of Bhagat Singh’s friends who became “Approvers.” Bhagat Singh thought the court would be a proper venue to get publicity for the cause of freedom, and did not want to disown the crime. On October 7, 1930 Bhagat Singh, Sukh Dev and Raj Guru were awarded death sentence by a special tribunal. Bhagat Singh wrote a letter to Viceroy Lord Irwin when he was in prison asking him to execute them not by hanging but by firing squad. But his plea was rejected and he was hanged on March 23, 1931 when he was only 24 years old. Bhagat Singh became a legendary hero for the masses. He became a symbol of bravery and a goal to free India.

(Author is a Freelance Journalist and social activist. He can be contacted on [email protected]).

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