Bhagat Singh

1907 - 1931
One of the most inspirational icons of the Indian freedom struggle and a revolutionary freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh was born on September 28, 1907 in Punjab.

Born into a Sikh family with a proud legacy of revolutionary activities against the British rule, Bhagat Singh cultivated his revolutionary zeal from a tender age.

The notorious Jalianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919 left an indelible scar on the mind of Bhagat Singh and soon he took up the membership of the youth organization Naujawan Bharat Sabha. Apart from mingling with noted revolutionaries such as Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh worked relentlessly to garner opposition against the British.

He is often referred to as "Shaheed Bhagat Singh", the word "Shaheed" meaning "martyr". He was just 23 when he died for our country!

According to Bhagat Singh, revolution is "the ultimate establishment of an order of society which may not be threatened by such breakdown, and in which the sovereignty of the proletariat should be recognized and a world federation should redeem humanity from the bondage of capitalism and misery of imperial wars."

Lala Lajpat Rai's death and murder of Saunders

Pamphlet by HSRA after Saunder's murder
In 1928, the British government set up the Simon Commission to report on the political situation in India. The Indian political parties boycotted the Commission, because it did not include a single Indian in its membership, and it met with country-wide protests.

When the Commission visited Lahore on 30 October 1928, Lala Lajpat Rai led a non-violent protest against the Commission in a silent march, but the police responded with violence. The superintendent of police, James A. Scott, ordered the police to lathi charge the protesters and personally assaulted Rai, who was grievously injured, later on Rai could not recover from the injury and died on 17 November 1928.

When the matter was raised in the British Parliament, the British Government denied any role in Rai's death. Although Bhagat Singh did not witness the event, he vowed to take revenge and joined other revolutionaries, Shivaram RajguruSukhdev ThaparChandrashekhar Azad, in a plot to kill Scott.

However, in a case of mistaken identity, Bhagat Singh received a signal to shoot on the appearance of John P. Saunders, an Assistant Superintendent of Police. He was shot by Rajguru and Singh while leaving the District Police Headquarters in Lahore on 17 December 1928.

1929 Assembly bomb throwing incident

To subdue the rise of revolutionaries like Singh, the British government decided to implement the Defence of India Act 1915 which gave the police a free hand.

On 8 April 1929, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw two bombs inside the assembly rushing from Visitor's Gallery. The smoke from the bomb filled the Hall and they shouted slogans of "Inquilab Zindabad!" ("Long Live the Revolution!") and showered leaflets. The leaflet claimed that the act was done to oppose the Trade Disputes and the Public Safety Bill being presented in the Central Assembly and the death of Lala Lajapath Rai.

Subsequently they volunteered to surrender and be arrested.

Hunger strike and Lahore conspiracy case

Bhagat Singh in Prison (circa 1927)
Singh was arrested for murdering Saunders and Chanan Singh based on substantial evidence against him, including the statements of his associates, Hans Raj Vohra and Jai Gopal.

His life sentence in the Assembly Bomb case was deferred till the Saunders' case was decided. He was sent to the Mianwali jail from the Delhi jail, where he witnessed discrimination between European and Indian prisoners, and led other prisoners in a hunger strike to protest this.

They demanded equality in standards of food, clothing, toiletries and other hygienic necessities, as well as availability of books and a daily newspaper for the political prisoners, whom they demanded should not be forced to do manual labour or any undignified work in the jail, as detailed in their letter to the Home Member on 24 June 1929.

Breaking the Strike

The Government tried to break the strike by placing different food items in the prison cells to test the hungry prisoners' resolve. Water pitchers were filled with milk so that either the prisoners remained thirsty or broke their strike but nobody faltered and the impasse continued. The authorities then attempted forcing food using feeding tubes into the prisoners, but were resisted.

Since the activities of the hunger strikers had gained popularity and attention amongst the people nationwide, the government decided to advance the start of the Saunders murder trial, which was henceforth called the Lahore Conspiracy Case. In addition to charging them for the murder of Saunders, Singh and 27 other prisoners were charged with plotting a conspiracy to murder Scott and waging a war against the King. Singh, still on hunger strike, had to be carried to the court handcuffed on a stretcher: he had lost 14 pounds (6.4 kg) weight from 133 pounds (60 kg) before the strike.

Part of Bhagat Singh's statement during his trial.

If the deaf are to hear, the sound has to be very loud. When we dropped the bomb, it was not our intention to kill anybody. We have bombed the British Government. The British must quit India and make her free.
The elimination of force at all costs is Utopian and the new movement which has arisen in the country and of whose dawn we have given a warning is inspired by the ideals which Guru Gobind Singh and Shivaji, Kamal Pasha and Reza Khan, Washington and Garibaldi, Lafayette and Lenin preached.
The bomb was necessary to awaken England from her dreams. We dropped the bomb on the floor of the assembly chamber to register our protest on behalf of those who had no other means left to give expression to their heart-rending agony. Our sole purpose was to make the deaf hear and give the heedless a timely warning. Others have as keenly felt as we have done and from such seeming stillness of the sea of Indian humanity, a veritable storm is about to break out.

Last days

In the leaflet he threw in the Central Assembly on 9 April 1929, he stated: "It is easy to kill individuals but you cannot kill the ideas. Great empires crumbled, while the ideas survived.

Front page of The Tribune announcing Bhagat Singh's executionAfter studying the Russian Revolution, he wanted to die so that his death would inspire the youth of India which in turn will unite them to fight the British Empire.

While in prison, Singh and two others had written a letter to Lord Irwin, wherein they asked to be treated as prisoners of war and consequently to be executed by firing squad and not by hanging. 

Prannath Mehta, Singh's friend, visited him in the jail on 20 March, four days before his execution, with a draft letter for clemency, but he declined to sign it.

Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death in the Lahore conspiracy case and ordered to be hanged on 24 March 1931.

That schedule was moved forward by 11 hours to 23 March, although Singh was not informed of this until the day arrived. Singh was hanged on 23 March 1931 at 7:30 pm in Lahore jail with his comrades Rajguru and Sukhdev. It is reported that no magistrate of the time was willing to supervise his hanging as was required by law. The execution was supervised by an honorary judge, who also signed the three death warrants as their original warrants had expired.

Bhagat Singh on "Long Live Revolution"

[from a letter published in The Tribune (25 December 1929) ]

One should not interpret the word “Revolution” in its literal sense. Various meanings and significances are attributed to this word, according to the interests of those who use or misuse it. For the established agencies of exploitation it conjures up a feeling of blood stained horror. To the revolutionaries it is a sacred phrase.

Revolution did not necessarily involve sanguinary strife. It was not a cult of bomb and pistol. They may sometimes be mere means for its achievement. No doubt they play a prominent part in some movements, but they do not — for that very reason — become one and the same thing. A rebellion is not a revolution. It may ultimately lead to that end.

The sense in which the word Revolution is used in that phrase, is the spirit, the longing for a change for the better. The people generally get accustomed to the established order of things and begin to tremble at the very idea of a change. It is this lethargical spirit that needs be replaced by the revolutionary spirit.

Otherwise degeneration gains the upper hand and the whole humanity is led stray by the reactionary forces. Such a state of affairs leads to stagnation and paralysis in human progress.

The spirit of Revolution should always permeate the soul of humanity, so that the reactionary forces may not accumulate to check its eternal onward march. Old order should change, always and ever, yielding place to new, so that one “good” order may not corrupt the world. It is in this sense that we raise the shout “Long Live Revolution.”


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