Sardar Bhagat Singh (1907 - 1931)
Family of Patriots
Bhagat Singh was born in a Sikh family of farmers in the village of Banga of Layalpur district of Punjab (now in Pakistan) on September 27th of 1907. His family stood for patriotism, reform, and freedom of the country. His grandfather Arjun Singh was drawn to Arya Samaj, a reformist movement of Hinduism, and took keen interest in proceedings of the Indian National Congress. Bhagat Singh's father Kishen Singh and uncle Ajit Singh were members of Ghadr Party founded in the U.S. in early years of this century to route British rule in India. Both were jailed for alleged anti-British activities. Ajit Singh had 22 cases against him and was forced to flee to Iran. Thereafter he went to Turkey, Austria, Germany and finally to Brazil to escape Black Water (Kalapani) punishment for his revolutionary activities in India.
The Jalianwala Bagh Massacre
Young Bhagat Singh was brought up in a politically charged state of Punjab which was left with a seething memory of the Jalianwala massacre of more than 400 innocent lives and thousands injured (1919). As a lad of fourteen he went to this spot to collect soil from the park of Jalianwala (bagh) in his lunch box, sanctified by the blood of the innocent and kept it as a memento for life.
Bhagat Singh was studying at the National College founded by Lala Lajpatrai, a great revolutionary leader and reformist. To avoid early marriage, he ran away from home and, became a member of the youth organization Noujawan Bharat Sabha which had memberships of all sects and religions. He met Chandrashekhar Azad, B.K. Dutt and other revolutionaries. They used to print handouts and newspapers in secret and spread political awareness in India through Urdu, Punjabi and English. These were all banned activities in India at the time, punishable with imprisonment.
The Simon Commission, Murder of Lala Lajpatrai and the Revenge
Anti-British feelings were spreading; Indians wanted some proper representation in running the administration of their country 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 1928, to report on political happenings. There was no single Indian member in this commission, and all the political parties decided to boycott the commission when it planned to visit major cities of India.
In Lahore, Lala Lajpatrai (picture) and Pandit Madan Mohan Malavia decided to protest to the commission in open about their displeasure. It was a silent protest march, yet the police chief Scott had banned meetings or processions. Thousands joined, without giving room for any untoward incident. Even then, Scott beat Lala Lajpatrai severely with a lathi (bamboo stick) on the head several times. Finally the leader succumbed to the injuries.
Bhagat Singh who was an eye witness to the morbid scene vowed to take revenge and with the help of Azad, Rajguru and Sukhadev plotted to kill Scott. Unfortunately he killed Mr. Sanders, a junior officer, in a case of mistaken identity. He had to flee from Lahore to escape death punishment.
Bomb in the Assembly
Instead of finding the root cause for discontent of Indians, the British government took to more repressive measures. Under the Defense of India Act, it gave more power to the police to arrest persons to stop processions with suspicious movements and actions. The act brought in the council was defeated by one vote. Even then it was to be passed in the form of an ordinance in the "interest of the public." No doubt the British were keen to arrest all leaders who opposed its arbitrary actions, and Bhagat Singh who was in hiding all this while, volunteered to throw a bomb in the central assembly where the meeting to pass the ordinance was being held. It was a carefully laid out plot, not to cause death or injury but to draw the attention of the government, that the modes of its suppression could no more be tolerated. It was agreed that Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt would court arrest after throwing the bomb.
It was a forgone conclusion in 1929 April 8th at Delhi Central Assembly. 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 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. But he gave a fiery statement giving reasons for killing which was symbolic of freedom struggle. He wanted to be shot like a soldier, and not die at the gallows. But, his plea was rejected, and he was hanged on the 23rd of March 1931. He was 24.
Bhagat Singh became a legendary hero for the masses. Innumerable songs were composed about him, and the youth throughout the country made him their ideal. He became a symbol of bravery and a goal to free India.
Mahatma Gandhi on the Martyrdom of Bhagat Singh
Freedom fighter Sardar Bhagat Singh was hanged by the British on accusations of anti-government activities on March 23, 1931. Here, Gandhi pays tribute to the patriotism of the young martyr while disagreeing with his revolutionary methods. Excerpted from Gandhi's article in Young India.
Bhagat Singh and his two associates have been hanged. The Congress made many attempts to save their lives and the Government entertained many hopes of it, but all has been in a vain.
Bhagat Singh did not wish to live. He refused to apologize, or even file an appeal. Bhagat Singh was not a devotee of non-violence, but he did not subscribe to the religion of violence. He took to violence due to helplessness and to defend his homeland. In his last letter, Bhagat Singh wrote --" I have been arrested while waging a war. For me there can be no gallows. Put me into the mouth of a cannon and blow me off." These heroes had conquered the fear of death. Let us bow to them a thousand times for their heroism.
But we should not imitate their act. In our land of millions of destitute and crippled people, if we take to the practice of seeking justice through murder, there will be a terrifying situation. Our poor people will become victims of our atrocities. By making a dharma of violence, we shall be reaping the fruit of our own actions.
Hence, though we praise the courage of these brave men, we should never countenance their activities. Our dharma is to swallow our anger, abide by the discipline of non-violence and carry out our duty.
March 29, 1931