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Bhagat Singh, Martyr Vs. Reformer

Bhagat_Singh_1929_140x190Last 23rd March, all social media walls were flooded with patriotic messages, praising Bhagat Singh, who was hanged on this date for the murder of a British Officer. People have been flaunting T-Shirts with Bhagat Singh’s photograph printed on it and many have sported a Bhagat Singh sticker on their car bumpers. Many other changed their Facebook profile picture to Tricolor or Bhagat Singh’s portrait. Is this what Bhagat Singh really wanted? Was he just another revolutionist, who bombed British assembly, murdered an officer and kept on spreading non-violence? Why did he give himself, knowing that he will die, at a young age of 23?

Sardar Bhagat Singh was born in 1907 near Faislabad. He was one of the most influential revolutionaries of the Indian Freedom Struggle. British tried their best to suppress his voice. Even Gandhi stood openly against his style and is even alleged by some to be an active conspirator against him. Gandhi, during his lifetime, maintained that he is an admirer of Bhagat’s patriotism. However, many of Gandhi’s speeches hint otherwise. For example, Gandhi have been sending letters to British to save many other prisoners from hanging, but in case of Bhagat Singh, he sent a letter on the day of hanging, knowing that it can never reach viceroy on time. Also, Gandhi was strictly against the Capital Punishment in general. But after Bhagat Singh’s hanging, he said “The government certainly had the right to hang these men”.

What exactly did Bhagat Singh do to deserve all this?

After Independence, when the history books were being re-written, everything was re-painted in Gandhi style. People, who were not following the Gandhian philosophy did get a mention in books, but partially. Deeper facts were kept aside, to be unveiled by research scholars sometime in future. For example, what we read in schools is, Bhagat Singh was a patriot, who was devastated by the murder of Lala Lajpat Rai by British. To take a revenge, he, along with Rajguru, shot ASI Saunders in 1928. This murder was a case of mistaken identity, as Saunders was not involved in Lathi Charge on Lala Lajpat Rai. Original culprit was his superior James A. Scott. Chandershekhar Azad gave cover fire to Bhagat and Rajguru, so they can escape. Next year, Bhagat Singh decides to strike again. This time, the motive was not to kill anyone, but to give a jolt to this sleeping government. He, along with Batukeshwar Dutt, threw two bombs in Assembly, making sure that no one is hurt. Instead of escaping, they stood there and shouted “Inqlaab Zindabad” (Long live the Revolution). After the chaos was over, police was surprised to see them still standing and shouting. So they were arrested and put under trial. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. Later Rajguru & Sukhdev were also arrested and all were sentenced to death for killing a British officer. During his imprisonment, Bhagat Singh fought against the ill-treatment with prisoners. He also rose voice against the law, which deprived prisoners of reading and writing.

What I wrote above is all true. But it is just one side of coin. There is more to Bhagat Singh, which is part of history, but could not find space in major publications. The philosophy of Bhagat Singh is slowly surfacing with his growing popularity.

After killing Saunders, Bhagat Singh went into hiding. He came back without a turban and beard, so no one could recognize him. He joined Hindustan Republican Association (HRA). With his Marxist ideology, he turned HRA into Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). He undertook several reforming projects to ensure equality amongst all, even those imprisoned.

When Bhagat Singh was imprisoned in Mianwali Jail, he witnessed discrimination between Indian and European prisoners. He was able to convince other Indian prisoners to go on an indefinite hunger strike. British tried everything, from placing food items in cells to forcing milk/juice down their throats but strikers did not break. Political pressure was building, both inside and outside the prison. Ultimately, the British had to accept their demands of equal standards of food, clothing, hygiene and toiletries. They also had to accept the demand of accessibility of books and newspaper to political prisoners. Bhagat Singh then wrote several letters and a diary, which gives deeper insight on his philosophy.

Bhagat Singh called himself an Aethist. People, including his own family criticized him for being so. Few days before his hanging, he wrote a piece titled ‘Why I am an Atheist’ to answer all the criticism. He cleared that the fear of God has been created by humans to hide their weakness, limitations and shortcomings. If you turn Aethist, you are a stronger person, who can turn a revolution into success.

Bhagat Singh realized that mere road protests will not affect the Government. He believed that to achieve complete Independence (Poorna Swaraj), a much bigger shock is needed. He decided to give himself for the cause. He prepared a strategy and as the first step of that, he threw that non-lethal bomb in Assembly. He stood there to be arrested, so he can have better say in public. He defended himself in court and his speeches during case proceedings served as fuel for the independence movement. His letters from Jail, his diary and his protests done in Prison changed the way government functioned for ever. After Independence, when India’s new constitution was being written, inspired by the original British Constitution, some rules enforced by Bhagat Singh were incorporated. He even wrote to the British officer, stating that he should be shot and not hanged, as he is a war prisoner and should be treated like one. His death, as he expected, created news across the country and inspired every freedom fighter, to stand against the British.


He was largely supported by mass during his time. Several leaders of Congress and other parties were in favour of Bhagat Singh, except Mahatma Gandhi.

Lover, lunatic and poet are made of the same stuff.
(First line in Bhagat Singh’s Jail Diary)

Kureh Khak hai Gardash main Tapash sai Meri ,
Main Voh majnu huan Jo Jindo’n main Bhee Azad Raha

{{Every tiny molecule of Ash is in motion with my heat,
I am such a Lunatic that I am free even in Jail}}
(Urdu lines from first page of Bhagat Singh’s Jail Diary)

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2 thoughts on “Bhagat Singh, Martyr Vs. Reformer

  1. There’s another story related to Bhagat Singh, though I am not 100% sure of the details – Sobha Singh who later got the title of Sardar Bahadur Sir Sobha Singh was a builder in early 1900s in Punjab. He was the father of famous author Khushwant Singh. He stood witness in court and identified Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt. Subsequently he was awarded large contracts by the British as they were building New Delhi and he built Connaught Place, National Museum, Baroda House, Modern School, St Columba’s School, Dyal Singh College. He bought lot of land in Delhi at prices as low as Rs. 2 per sq yard and was known as ‘Aadhi Dilli ka Maalik’ at one point.

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