Monday, August 08, 2005

A forgotten hero -- Umer A. Chaudhry

A forgotten hero (Dawn Magzine; August 7, 2005)

By Umer A. Chaudhry

In Pakistan, it is not uncommon to forget those who were able to gain
significant achievements and deserve to be remembered. This apathy
increases if that particular individual is not a Muslim. During the
independence movement there were a lot of non-Muslims, or non-Muslim
Leaguers, who worked hard and even sacrificed their lives for the
cause of independence. But we hardly hear about them and the
textbooks on history are silent about these men of great honour.

Bhagat Singh, the freedom fighter from Punjab is one such forgotten
hero. It might not be unjust to rank him with inspirational figures
like Che Guvera. In his youth, Bhagat Singh was very distressed by
the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919. According to some, he
personally visited the Bagh in which hundreds of men, women and
children were killed while they were enjoying a peaceful festival.
Although he was young, he was an active participant of Gandhi's first
Non-Cooperation Movement. He was highly disturbed when Gandhi called
it off.

Later on, in 1923, Bhagat Singh joined the National College in
Lahore. He was 15 at that time and enjoyed a good command over Urdu,
English, Hindi, Gurmukhi and Sanskrit. He was also involved in
dramatics. It was during his college days that he met fellow
revolutionaries like Sukhdev, Jaigopal, B.K. Dutt, Chandrashekar
Azad, Rajguru, Phonindinarth Ghosh, Markand Trivedi and others, and
became a member of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha.

At that time he was completely dedicated to the cause of national
liberation and even avoided marriage. In a note that he left behind,
Bhagat Singh wrote: "My life has been dedicated to the noblest cause,
that of the freedom of the country. Therefore, there is no rest or
worldly desire that can lure me now. If you remember, when I was
small, Bapuji (Arjun Singh) declared at my thread ceremony that I had
been dedicated to the service of my country. I am thus waiting to
fulfill that commitment. I hope you will forgive me."

In 1924 Bhagat became a member of Hindustan Republican Association.
Working in close alliance with Chandrashekar Azad, Bhagat took the
militant philosophy seriously. He was involved in some terrorist
activities that he disapproved of later on. A propagandist, he wrote
a number of articles and pamphlets under a pseudonym.

Between 1927-1928, Bhagat Singh involved himself in studying the
revolutionary literature and revolutionary history of India. Bhagat
Singh refined his opinion about terrorism by rejecting the definition
of terrorism as the destructive, coercive and unjust use of force. He
justified his position by saying that when "patriots take up arms for
the sake of their country and its safety, when they eliminate
exploitation and oppression, or when they avenge the injustice done
to the oppressed and go to the gallows, they use violence but they do
not spread terror".

The British Government created Simon Commission, headed by Sir John
Simon, to report on the political problems of India in 1928. Lala
Lajpat Rai conducted a peaceful march against the commission in front
of the Lahore Railway Station. The police, in retaliation, baton
charged the demonstrators. The police chief Scott was believed to
have hit Lala Lajpat Rai directly on his head that resulted in death.
Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru and Azad vowed revenge and planned to
kill the police chief. But due to some mistake they killed his
junior, J.P. Saunders, and went underground and escaped from Lahore.
Over the next few days, public notices were seen in the name of
Indian Socialist Democratic Army. One such notice said: "We regret
having killed a human being but this man was a part of that
unmerciful and unjust system that must be destroyed."

His party was referred to as terrorists and he had to rebuild his
reputation in the eyes of the people. Pamphlets were one of the
easiest methods for spreading ideological and political information.
But Bhagat Singh realized the limited audience that these pamphlets
enjoyed. He was seeking some more effective way to propagate his
ideas. He thought of courting arrest to shout out propaganda during
the trial to generate popular support. He knew that he would have a
better position as a political prisoner to criticize the British
Government. Once inside, there were chances that he might have the
opportunity to gain support of the native policemen and the prisoners.

Most importantly, he thought that his sacrifice and martyrdom might
inspire the youth to become involved in a revolutionary movement and
prevent them from flowing with the mainstream national movement.

The Indian legislators rejected the Indian Safety Bill introduced by
the Government in 1929. Shortly afterwards, the Viceroy of India
attempted to pass it as an ordinance. Bhagat Singh, along with his
comrade B.K. Dutt threw a small and relatively harmless explosive in
the parliament. The bomb was strategically thrown to inflict as
little harm as possible. Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutt remained in the
visitor's gallery where they were arrested. The aim of the activity,
according to the leaflets thrown in the Assembly Hall, was to make
a "loud noise to make the deaf hear".

On July 15, Bhagat Singh launched a successful hunger strike for jail
reforms that showed that his activism remained alive even behind the
bars. In July, 1929, the Lahore Conspiracy Case (Saunders Murder
Case) was reopened leading to the a death sentence. Bhagat Singh,
Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged on the March 23, 1931. Bhagat Singh
was only 23.

To understand the struggle of Bhagat Singh it is necessary to
understand that he was a young man who, due to his interest in
studying, developed a revolutionary tradition that the British failed
to eliminate. His clarity of vision and determination of purpose made
him stand out in the mainstream Indian political movement.

In a letter to his co-patriot, Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh wrote: "I can
say with all my might that I am immersed in the hopes and doubts that
give life a meaning. But when the time comes, I will sacrifice
everything. In the true sense this is sacrifice... you will realize
this soon".

1 comment:

Melbourne Desi said...

Good blog! Keep it up comrade. The struggle continues. Take care.