Today is Bhagat Singh’s Birth Anniversary. Had he been alive, he would have been 103 years old.
What do we really know about him? And, this is more from legends than from facts:
a) He was a revolutionary who believed that violent means were acceptable to overthrow an unjust Government
b) He bombed the Delhi Assembly to protest against the Raj.
c) He was hanged by the British when he was about 24.
d) He composed Rang De Basanti Chola & Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna
Let’s look at each of these in turn
He was a revolutionary – Yes he was. The era that he was growing up (he was born in 1907) was an exciting and charged one. When he was 10 (1917), the Russian Empire made way for the Soviet Union – A communist state where everyone was equal (at least theoretically). When he was 12 (1919) the British Empire unleashed its might on Baisaki Day (April 13th 1919) at Jallianwallah Bagh against an unarmed gathering of worshipers – firing non stop and killing over a 1000 people. It was also the post first world war era – with the labour movement across the world (western world) rising up. It was a time when a young man from a progressive family – a family that discarded the stifling strictures & rituals of Hinduism, as it existed in those days, became Arya Samaji‘s that:
“….unequivocally condemns idolatry, animal sacrifices, ancestor worship, priestcraft, the caste system, the sati system for widows, inequality of women, untouchability and child marriages, on the grounds that all these lacked Vedic sanction. It aims to be a universal organisation based on the authority of the Vedas. “
It may not seem like a big deal today – but, at that time the very concept was revolutionary. Over and above that, Bhagat Singh’s family were involved in the Ghadar (revolutionary) movement. Bhagat Singh himself considered the leader of this movement, Kartar Singh Sarabha, to be his hero.
If i had to label him – I would call him a revolutionary inspired by Communism and its ideals; as compared to Subhash Chandra Bose – who was more impressed with the discipline of early Fascism. This is not to value judge either -they lived in a different time from ours – and their ideals were borne out of the circumstances of their time, not ours.
But the label itself is too narrow. If I truly had to describe him I would say Communist, Anti Communal, Anti Caste, Feminist (his empathy for the burden borne by women was phenomenal), Nationalist – possibly, in that order.
He bombed the Assembly to protest against the Raj– yes he did, and no he didn’t. The bomb was symbolic rather than aiming at casualties. No one died in the bombings. His aim was
“to create a loud noise, so that the deaf hear. “
The bombing was not to call for the Raj to disappear – though it may have been part of the overall plan – rather it was to call for the repeal of some very draconian anti-labour legislation embodied in the Public Safety Bill and Trades Dispute Bill. We tend to forget that the British Raj was an Imperial Power – that captured colonies for cheap raw materials, cheap labour and a captive market. The labour movement – which is all but dead now – was, by definition, anti Imperial. So was the Bomb.
He was hung by the British when he was 24 – yes he was.
He composed Rang De Basanti Chola & Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna – He popularised it. However, legend is vague on whether he composed it. It is vaguer on who could have composed it -Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna is most often attributed to Ram Prasad Bismil aka Bismil Azimabadi , there is no such attribution for Rang De Basanti. But, the men of that era – were not really into silly things like IPR – they had far more important things like revolution to plan. And, lyrics and poetry were a good way of getting their message across
Other facts to know about Bhagat Singh
- He was an atheist
- He was opposed to the Hindu Mahasabha – the forerunner of today’s BJP. He infact had issues with Lala Lajpat Rai for associating with the Hindu Mahasabha, in turn Lala Lajpat Rai labelled him a Russian Agent. Which is even more ironical because it was the death of Lala Lajpat Rai that brought things to a boil as far as revolutionary activity in Punjab was considered.
It is sad that when we remember Shaheed Bhagat Singh on his birth anniversary – if at all we do – we see him as a one dimensional figure – who bombed the assembly, who opposed non-violence (he didn’t – he just thought that it wont get the job done), and who died young. The Man was far more complex and far more interesting than that.
I wonder, what would have happened if he hadn’t been hung. Would he have led a United Communist Party in an Independent India ?
And finally, for those of you who are interested – an excerpt of his last speech from Kuldeep Nayar’s book “The Life & Trial of Bhagat Singh” – found on Google Books.
Worth Reading –
The Jail Notebook & other Writings by Bhagat Singh
Why I am an Atheist – by Bhagat Singh
The Trial of Bhagat Singh – in the Indian Law Journal
Bhagat Singh’s writings against communalism and untouchability – by Irfan Habib
Bhagat Singh and the Revolutionary Movement – by Niraja Rao
Bhagat Singh and the Ghadar Movement– Harish K Puri
Revisiting Bhagat Singh: Ideology and Politics – Datta Desai
Bhagat Singh – wiki entry