Saturday 13 September 2008

Shahid Bhagat Singh - A Tribute


I am sure that there is no introduction required for the person whose picture is pasted above. What is required here is for me to explain my reasons to want to write about Shahid Bhagat Singh...

Let me be honest here - I have never thought deeply about the entire freedom struggle that finally managed to free India from the British rule. I have seen, heard and even read stories (multiple times probably) and always feeling blessed to be born in a free land.

The first few things that I remember about the freedom struggle stories is seeing the movie "Gandhi" by Richard Attenborough in my early teens and then seeing this movie every 02nd October, when DD showed it without fail! From that - to our History course book, few stories and many more movies that revolved around the same theme.

In all this, I think from very early on my mind started to believe that it was Mahatma Gandhi (he and his ideology) who was one and the only one to have managed to drag the Britishers out of India. Today, I think differently - not that I think any less of Mahatma Gandhi (I cannot), just that I now know that there were others who contributed in their own way - whether with or without Mahatma's approval or even appreciation!

There is a relatively short list of names that come to my mind - who contributed to India's freedom struggle and still were in Mahatma Gandhi's bad books. One such name is of Shahid Bhagat Singh. I have known of his stories, about his courage, about his ultimate sacrifice. But, unlike for Mahatma Gandhi, where we can have an overload of Gandhi - the person, Gandhi - the thinker, Gandhi's philosophy, Gandhi's writings and more importantly, what made MK Gandhi into Mahatma Gandhi. There isn't much available that allows us to understand Bhagat Singh the person, Bhagat Singh the thinker and similarly what made Bhagat Singh into Shahid Bhagat Singh.

Out of sheer bombarding of heroic stories about Bhagat Singh, there were actually two views that I had been exposed to (through peers, through teachers, through thought-provoking discussions at times):

1. He was a true legend, who sacrificed everything for one and only one cause - India's Independence

2. He was a terrorist, who has been given a legend's status post India's Independence

It was this second view that used to disturb me and all this started playing on my mind more in 2006. It was in that year that there was some activity towards celebrating Shahid Bhagat Singh's centenary birth anniversary next year (2007).

Then came RDB - the most moving movie of recent times, that woke up the youth of India and shook up all! It was for the first time that I felt there is more to Bhagat Singh that I know. But it was not before last weekend that I did something about it. I was in a book shop, looking for my next book. And I came across an interesting title: Without Fear - The life & trial of Bhagat Singh, by Kuldip Nayar. It was almost instantly that I bought this book.

There were broadly two objectives in my mind, which led me to buy this book:

1. To try and answer which of the two types (mentioned earlier in this post) was Bhagat Singh in reality and
2. To try and understand what was Bhagat Singh - the thinker like, what was he fighting for, what was he fighting against and what did he want for reward

I think this book managed to help me fulfill both my ojectives. A must read for everyone who wants to know about the political scenario of India in late 1920's - from a perspective that is completely different from how the then Congress saw it and asked masses to perceive it as.

More than that - this book brings out the mind of Bhagat Singh to life. We may know of his courage and how he faced his end - but we probably won't know that he was an aetheist and never prayed to God, not even in his last few days. In his own words:

"I am going to sacrifice my life for a cause. What more consolation can there be? A God-believing Hindu may expect to be reborn a king; a Muslim or Christian might dream of the luxuries he hopes to enjoy in paradise as a reward for his sufferings and sacrifices. What hope should I entertain? I know that it will be the end when the rope is tightened around my neck and the rafters are moved from under my feet. To use more precise religious terminology - it will be my moment of utter annihilation. My soul will come to nothing. If I have the courage to think of this matter in the light of a "reward", I see a short life of struggle with no such magnificent end as itself my "reward". That is all.

With no selfish motive or desire to be awarded here or hereafter, quite disinterestedly have I devoted my life to the cause of independence, because I could not do otherwise."

Through this book, I could also see (for the first time) the single biggest difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary. A terrorist (individual or group) has the aim to spread fear amongst masses, so as to allow that individual or group to get their way. They may still have a cause that fills them up with enough grit to be prepared for loss of their own life. But, their method is destruction and destruction alone.

Whereas, a revolutionary is not just fighting for the cause of (say) independence, but is ruled by the thought that what will we do post indepencdence, how will we ensure that life is better for one and all once we have achieved our goal of becoming independent. In their opinion, task at hand was not just political independence, but it is political, social and economic independence.

The revolutionary party, Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) - led by Bhagat Singh, was inspired by Russian Revolution and Lenin was considered to be their idol. It was believed that without plans for social reforms and upliftment of poor, asking for independence was futile. It would have meant that "white babus were replaced with brown babus".

According to HSRA, terrorist activities were important to let the British governement (both in India and in the UK) realise that Indian youth was awakening and not ready to accept suppression, cruelty and brutality with folded hands. HSRA wanted to hit back at the British - but not just do that. According to Bhagat Singh:

"Revolution necessarily implies the programme of systematic reconstruction of society on a new and better adopted basis, often necessitating complete destruction of the existing state of affairs."

Since nationwide, there was a pro-Gandhi sentiment that prevailed - thus anybody or any thought that was rubbished by Gandhi was rubbished by people at large. HSRA felt the heat and at no given opporunity, did the Congress stop from condemning HSRA's actions. Bhagat Singh and his comrades realised this and discussed at great lengths about how can they educate people about their ways and socialist plans.

It was during one such discussion that it was decided that they need a public forum to announce who they were, what did they stand for and what according should independence really mean - which is political, social and economic. And it was Bhagat Singh who was chosen as party's representative - since he was thought to be the man who believed in this concept most and could communicate it the best - even though all understood that this only meant the end of Bhagat Singh's life (along with his other comrades who stood by him during this). But then, has there ever been a revolution without sacrifice!!!

This was managed by throwing relatively harmless bombs in the Assembly Hall, New Delhi - on 08th April 1929. It is here that Bhagat Singh surrendered himself to the police. This was the plan - the only way to evoke nationwide interest in HSRA and use the court as the public platform to broadcast the real philosophy of revolutionaries. Knowing it only meant death for him and his comrades, Bhagat Singh dealt with it in a manner that this was the only way and thus had to be done. He took pride in being handed the death penalty - as he knew that what he and his comrades had started - it wouldn't dampen with their ultimate sacrifice, rather their death would fuel it up further!

Well - I have never known Shahid Bhagat Singh better than today and can only hope that for those who have any interest have got to know him better through this post now. I for sure have not been able to write all that I wanted to or could have, thus I recommend people reading this book - Without Fear!

I would like to end with a poem by Rabindranath Tagore:

Where The Mind is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; 
Where knowledge is free; 
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; 
Where words come out from the depth of truth; 
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
 Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action-- 
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.


Unknown said...

I assumed that a man of your intelligence would know all this already.....But m so glad that u know it now,,,,as i totally understand the Shiver it brings along...

there have been many movies made on Shaheed Bhagat Singh...but in my opinion the most sincerely directed one is "the legend of Bhagat Singh" by Rajkumar Santoshi,,starring Ajay Devgan ,,,with A.R Rahman's music. All of them have done great justice to the direction, music and Acting. MUST waTCH..!!!

Also you gotcha read about:
1. Shaheed Udham SIngh
2. Kartar SIngh Sarabha
3. Madan Lal Dhingra
4. Lala Hardyal
and many more.

Will talk to you about them when i see you :-)


Mudit Aggarwal said...

@ Jasbir:

Dude - I am glad that you assumed I was intelligent, but one aspect that you ignored was my past interest levels with pre-independence era!

I wouldn't say that I didn't know about Shahid Bhagat Singh, prior to reading this book - just that I didn't know as well about him as I do now.

As for the movies - I don't think they do justice with the person, as he is the infallible HERO in those movies and not so much in this book. A movie is after all a commercial arrangement of facts (that too is not necessary) - where as this book is not a story but a narration of events in the life and trial of this legend!!!

I now plan to get my hands on Freedom at Midnight - let's see as and when I get to read about others that you have recommended...

Chal - take care...