Strange, there was no meeting or seminar to remember Bhagat Singh who still lives in the memory of every Indian. I was still in a primary school when the revolutionary Bhagat Singh was hanged 82 years ago, to be precise on March 23, 1931. Even though more than eight decades have passed, the feeling of his loss has not lessened. An uproar against the British united the country and so strong was the feeling that nobody was willing to name his comrade (Hans Raj Vohra), who agreed to be the official witness.
Hans Raj Vohra was a close companion of Bhagat Singh and spilled the beans as soon as he was arrested. Although his version is different, he said that since Sukhdev, one of the persons who were hanged along with Bhagat Singh, told everything to the police, Hans Raj told the British the whole thing in detail, where the revolutionaries would make the bombs and where some among them were located in the country.
Although he had not forgiven his father for making a written request to the tribunal saying that his son was innocent and that he had nothing to do with police officer John Saunder’s murder, he knew his father was a sincere patriot who had devoted his life to the cause of independence. His father’s filial affection at times had embarrassed Bhagat Singh the revolutionary. But he knew the harrowed look in his father’s eyes was his way of saying sorry.
Bhagat Singh had chided his father through a letter. He wrote to Hans Raj, saying: “I have not been able to understand how you could think it proper to submit such a petition at this stage and in these circumstances…You know that in the political field my views have always differed with those of yours. I have always been acting independently without having cared for your approval or disapproval.”
Head jail warden Charat Singh indicated to him that the time allotted for the mulaqat (meeting) was over. But Bhagat Singh lingered. His family’s love had overwhelmed him. He was pensive. Charat Singh told him to hurry up. His relatives embraced Bhagat Singh one by one. He touched his mother’s feet. It was a gesture of reverence but it brought tears to everyone’s eyes. His sisters sobbed openly. Bhagat Singh was greatly upset. “Stay together,” were his last words to them. Then he folded his hands and left.
On his way back to his cell he saw Sukhdev and Rajguru still standing behind iron bars, forlorn and lonely. Despite Charat Singh asking him not to, he stopped to chat with them. It will be any day now, he told them. The last meeting with his family was indicative of it. They nodded in assent. Back in his cell, Bhagat Singh touched his kurta which was damp with the tears of his family. Little Kultar, his youngest brother, had wept incessantly. As he clung to his older brother and said goodbye he had sobbed, “Life will not be worth living without you.” His innocent, grief-stricken face haunted Bhagat Singh. As the cell door closed behind him, he reached for his pen and wrote him a letter in Urdu, the language he normally used in personal letters.
The letter to Kultar was done. He hoped his words would soothe his brother. But what about the millions of people who believed in him? After writing to his brother, Bhagat Singh reached for a notebook he maintained. It was neither a personal account nor a record of his reactions. He just jotted down his favourite passages from the books he was reading. They were passages, mostly in English, by thinkers like Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Hobbers, Locke, Rousseau, Trotsky, Bertrand Russel, Karl Marx and Engels.
Among the Indian authors he read were Rabindranath Tagore and Lajpat Rai. Bhagat Singh was also fond of poetry. He would recite even from Wordsworth, Byron and Omar Khayyam. But his favourite was Ghalib whom he quoted frequently. The meeting with his family had shaken him emotionally but Bhagat Singh took it in his stride and immersed himself once again in his books.
As the news of his execution spread, the nation went into mourning. There were processions throughout the country. Many went without food. People wore black badges and shut down their businesses to express their grief. The British stayed indoors. Among the Indian political leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru was the first to pay his tributes.
Nehru said that Bhagat Singh was a clean fighter who faced the enemy in an open field. He was a young boy full of passionate zeal for the country. He was like a spark that grew into a great flame in a short time and spread from one city of the country to the other, illuminating darkness everywhere. Mahatma Gandhi was profuse in his praise for the courage of the executed heroes. He said: “Bhagat Singh and his companions’ death seem to have been a personal loss to many. I join in the tributes paid to the memory of these young men…”
But these words were lost on many people who were angry with Gandhiji for not having done enough to save Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Faced with public’s ugly mood, Congress leaders tried to come up with several explanations for their failure to rescind the sentence. But nothing worked to soothe the frayed tempers of the public.
For the past three years, we the Indians and the Pakistanis have been celebrating Bhagat Singh’s birthday at the very crossing where he was hanged. We have been lighting candles and garlanding his life size photo at the site. We have recalled the hanging of Ashfhaqullah, who went to the gallows with the Koran dangling from his neck, by reciting one of his couplets which reflected his patriotic sentiments, not religious.
Kuchh aarzoo nahi hai, Hai aarzoo to yeh
Rakhde koi zarasi khake watan kafan mei
(I have no desire. If at all there is one, it is that someone should place the earth of my country in the coffin). EOM