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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.

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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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Hey Ram!

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We were about to complete 6 months of India’s Independence from the British, when entire world heard the sound of three bullets being fired in a posh bungalow of Albuquerque Road in Lutyen’s Delhi. This house, built by a millionaire from Marwari Maheshwari family, Ghanshyam Das Birla, was those days being used as residence by the most famous Indian of modern times, Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi aka Mahatma Gandhi. Those three shots from Beretta M 1934 series semi-automatic pistol pierced Mahatma Gandhi’s body from point blank range and ended an era of non-violent struggle for freedom. Words “Hey Ram” followed the gunshots and father of nation went into a deep sleep, to never awake again.

Padma Vibhushan, Shri Ghanshyam Das Birla was the member of famous Birla Family. His father, Baldeo Das Birla was adopted from Navalgarh Birla family and he later partnered with his nephew Fulchand Sodhani to venture into opium trade, which soon became a 10 million rupee business. This business was passed to GD Birla’s eldest brother Jugal Kishore Birla and GD Birla himself went to Calcutta (now Kolkata), to invest in jute business. He faced much challenges from the British & Scottish merchants, who tried to shut his business but he managed to sustain until the First World War broke. During the World War, when supply problems were at peak throughout the British Empire, GD Birla’s business skyrocketed and he could make enough fortune to afford a royal mansion right in the heart of new Imperial City of Delhi, later known as the Lutyen’s Delhi. He was also member of the Central Legislative Assembly of the British India. In 1916, shortly before he established the Birla Brothers Limited Company, he met Mahatma Gandhi and soon became a close associate.

clip_image004On 9th September, 1947, when Mahatma Gandhi arrived Delhi from Kolkata, he was motored to Birla House, where he spent the remaining 144 days of his life. Next few days, he visited some refugee camps and met Lady and Lord Mountbatten. He had meetings with various leaders from different sects and discussed the growing tension between newly formed Pakistan and India. Given the pain of partition riots, he said on his birthday on 2nd October “It is more proper to offer condolences than to offer congatulations; I do not wish to live long.” Given the growing tension between India and Pakistan, Gandhi started another fast on January 13th 1948, which was broken with a glass of orange juice on January 18th from hands of Maulana Azad. The next day, during the prayers, a bomb exploded, which was meant for Gandhi’s assassination. On 27th January, he wrote ‘Congress Position’, suggesting that Congress should cease as political body and should devote to people’s service. He then left for Phoolwalon ki Sair festival, the Urs celebrations at the Dargah of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (ra) in Mehrauli. On 30th January, he was walking through the lawn of Birla House for evening prayer, when Nathuram Vinayak Godse shot him.

 

clip_image006Nathuram Godse was born on 19th May 1910 in Pune. Nathuram’s original name was Ramachandra Godse. Three boys born before him died in their infancy. However, a girl child survived and fearing the curse targeting male children, Ramachandra was brought up as a girl for first few years of his life. His parents pierced his nose and made him wear a ‘Nath’ (nose-ring). From this, he got his name “Ram with Nath” or NathuRam. It was only after his younger brother was born, his parents started treating him as a boy. Nathuram was a strong follower of Gandhi and respected him as a role model. In those days, he was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindu Mahasabha. He later started a Marathi newspaper called Agrani. His fascination for Gandhi’s ideology ended when he found that Mahatma is favouring Muslims and which has made Hindus suffer. His last speech, which he delivered during his trial for Gandhi’s assassination could come as a surprise to many. He said that Gandhi’s control over congress was harming the nation and he is strongly responsible for the partition of India. Godse said “He was, paradoxical, as it may appear, a violent pacifist who brought untold calamities on the country in the name of truth and non-violence, while Rana Pratap, Shivaji and the Guru will remain enshrined in the hearts of their countrymen forever for the freedom they brought to them. The accumulating provocation of thirty-two years, culminating in his last pro-Muslim fast, at last goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to an end immediately.” Godse felt that when Muslim League began massacre of Hindus during the partition, Gandhi did nothing to save them except peace appeal and later fasted to support the same Muslim League. He held Gandhi & Nehru strongly responsible for India’s Partition and justified his act of killing Gandhi.

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Much later, in 1966, the government of India started negotiations with K.K.Birla for acquiring the Birla House. It was a hard bargain for Shahi Bhushan, Krishna Kant, Mohan Dharia and Chandra Shekhar as KK Birla was not willing to give it to the government for a cheaper price. The house was evaluated and while deciding the sale price of the mansion, Birla even calculated the value of fruit bearing trees and the saplings that have been planted to the price tag. Finally, the bargain was settled at Rs. 5.4 Million in addition to seven acres of prime land in Delhi. The building was later modified a little and the road on which it was built, was renamed to 30 January Marg. Now, a memorial pillar stands at the spot where he was shot dead, which bears words “Hey Ram!”

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