Pakistan's Bhagat Singh
The month of September marks the death anniversary of the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah as well as the birth anniversary of another freedom fighter Bhagat Singh who was hailed none other than by Mr. Jinnah on multiple occasions. Bhagat Singh was born in the Lyalpur district (now Faisalabad) which makes him the son of the soil. He, at a very young age, led a heroic struggle against the British Raj which made him a hero among the masses. He was eventually hanged by the British authorities on 23rd March, 1931.
Every year, a few dozens of civil society activists gather at Shadman roundabout to commemorate his death anniversary. The Shadman roundabout was a part of Lahore Central Jail during the British Raj, and is exactly the place where once the gallows stood. There has been a long-standing demand for renaming the intersection after Bhagat Singh. An organization ‘Bhagat Singh Memorial Foundation Pakistan’ has been active in this regard. The demand was initially accepted in 2012 but the authorities faced severe criticism from the right-wing section which termed the renaming process against the ideology of Pakistan as Bhagat Singh was not a Muslim freedom fighter. The decision was then suspended, and the matter has been in the court for a number of years now.
Mr. Jinnah defended Bhagat Singh
It is pretty sad that the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, himself had paid homage to Bhagat Singh on more than one occasion but it has become difficult for the present authorities to rename a chowk or roundabout after the same person. When Bhagat Singh started his famous hunger strike in jail, Mr. Jinnah defended him with the following words:
“The man who goes on hunger strike has a soul. He [Bhagat Singh] is moved by that soul and he believes in the justice of his cause. He is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of cold-blooded, sordid, wicked crime.”
On another occasion, Mr. Jinnah defended Bhagat Singh saying:
“I do not approve of the actions of Bhagat Singh. I regret that rightly or wrongly the youth of today is stirred up. However much you say they are misguided, it is the system, this damnable system of governance which is resented by the people.”
A Glimpse on Bhagat Singh's Struggle
Bhagat Singh had been active in mob politics since his teenage. There’s a story which suggests that he visited Jallianwala Bagh right after the massacre, and brought with him a bottle filled with blood-soaked mud. He had also formed an organization ‘Naujawan Bharat Sabha’ in Punjab, and had also joined hands with ‘Hindustan Socialist Republic Association (HSRA)’.
In December 1928, J. P. Saunders, the Assistant Superintendent of Punjab Police, was murdered by HSRA as a way to take revenge of the death of Lala Lajpat Rai who had staged a protest against Simon Commission, and had died due to heavy lathi-charge by the police. The original target was James Scott, the Superintendent of Punjab Police, but instead Saunders was killed. After Saunders was shot dead, posters that surfaced in the Lahore city stated,
“We are sorry to have killed a man but this man was a part of a cruel, despicable and unjust system, and killing him was a necessity…”
In 1929, Bhagat Singh and his fellow B. K. Dutt threw two bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly of Delhi. However, these were not powerful explosives, and were not intended to harm anyone. According to Bhagat Singh, this was a way of protesting against the Public Safety and Trade Disputes Bills, and ‘to make the deaf hear’. Both the bills were oppressive in nature, for instance the Trade Disputes Bill was a way to strip the right to protest from the Indian workers. Bhagat and Dutt did not run away after throwing the bombs, instead they threw leaflets and shouted the slogans ‘Long Live Revolution’ and ‘Down with Imperialism’. Hence, both of them were arrested and transported for life.
During his time in jail, Bhagat Singh started his hunger strike, which according to one account lasted for over 100 days including a short break. This was done to make the authorities treat him as a political prisoner. The never-ending fasts of Bhagat Singh made him a national icon. Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs began to march together in Lahore and many processions were held to show support for him.
In the meantime, the British authorities managed to connect the pistol of Bhagat Singh with the murder of J. P. Saunders. Ultimately, he and his fellows were sent to the gallows on 23rd March 1931, a day before the actual day of hanging. Moreover, their bodies were also covertly cremated. This was deliberately done to avoid any kind of rebellious protests. At that point, his fame had reached the peak. There was Congress’ session in Karachi on 24th March, just a day after the execution. Mahatama Gandhi was met with the slogans ‘Down with Gandhism’ and ‘Long Live Bhagat Singh’. He was also presented black flowers which he took without saying anything. This was a way of showing anger by the protestors who believed that Mr. Gandhi had not done enough to stop the execution of the revolutionaries. The Congress session passed a resolution praising the three revolutionaries while disowning any acts of violence. Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru later noted in his book that at that time the popularity of Bhagat Singh rivaled that of Mahatama Gandhi.
It is also said that Allama Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan, was one of the favourites of Bhagat Singh. In his last letter written to his younger brother, he quoted Iqbal’s following verse:
“Koi Damm Ka Mehman Hoo’n Ahl e Mehfil,
Chirag e Sehar Hoo’n, Bhujha Chahta Hoo’n”
[ O assembly’s companions! I am existing only for a few moments
I am the dawn’s candle, I am about to be extinguished ]
The recent developments have been soothing. The house of Bhagat Singh in Banga village has been renovated by the authorities, and an annual mela or festival is held in the village. With the passage of time, more and more people are getting to know his heroic story. It is about time the son of soil gets an official recognition in his own land.