Bhagat Singh PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 17 October 2011 15:07

Bhagat Singh

Bhagat Singh

Born: 28 September 1907, Village Khatkar Kalan Lyallpur, Punjab, British India

Died: 23 March 1931, Lahore Jail, Punjab, British India

Age: 23

Cause of death: Hanged by the British

Notable because: Anarchic atheist who sought revolutionary overthrow of British rule in India, inspired many by his determined action and was hanged at the age of 23 by the British, going on to become an iconic revolutionary martyr. Wrote 'Why I am an Athiest."

Bhagat Singh was an Indian freedom fighter, considered to be one of the most influential revolutionaries of the Indian independence movement. He is often referred to as Shaheed Bhagat Singh (the word shaheed meaning "martyr").

Born into a Jat Sikh family which had earlier been involved in revolutionary activities against the British Raj, Singh, as a teenager, studied European revolutionary movements, and was attracted to anarchism and marxist ideologies. He became involved in numerous revolutionary organizations, and quickly rose through the ranks of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) to become one of its leaders, and was influencial in changing its name to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA).  Singh gained support when he underwent a 116-day fast in jail, demanding equal rights for Indian and British political prisoners. He was hanged for shooting a British police officer associated with the police lathi charge on a non-violent protest in which the veteran freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai was assaulted and grievously injured; and later died. Batukeshwar Dutt and he also threw two bombs and leaflets in the Central Legislative Assembly of India to make the deaf hear. His legacy prompted youths in India to begin fighting for Indian independence. He continues to be a youth idol in modern India, and has inspired a number of films.

Bhagat Singh was born into a Sandhu Jat family to Sardar Kishan Singh Sandhu and Sardarni Vidyavati Kaur in Chak No. 105 village in the Lyallpur district of Punjab in modern-day Pakistan. His ancestral village is the Khatkar Kalan village near Banga town in Nawanshahr district of Punjab.The district has recently been renamed as Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar. Singh's given name of Bhagat means "devotee", and he was nicknamed "Bhaganwala" by his grandmother, meaning "the lucky one". He came from a patriotic Jat Sikh family, some of whom had participated in movements supporting the independence of India and others who had served in Maharaja Ranjit Singh's army. His grandfather, Arjun Singh, was a follower of Swami Dayananda Saraswati's Hindu reformist movement, Arya Samaj, which would carry a heavy influence on Singh. His uncles, Ajit Singh and Swaran Singh, as well as his father were members of the Ghadar Party, led by Kartar Singh Sarabha Grewal and Har Dayal. Ajit Singh was forced to flee to Persia because of pending cases against him while Swaran Singh died in 1910 at his home after releasing from Borstal Jail, Lahore.

Unlike many Sikhs his age, Singh did not attend Khalsa High School in Lahore, because his grandfather did not approve of the school officials' loyalism to the British authorities. Instead, his father enrolled him in Dayanand Anglo Vedic High School, an Arya Samaj school. At age 13, Singh began to follow Mahatma Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement. At this point he had openly defied the British and had followed Gandhi's wishes by burning his government-school books and any British-imported clothing. Following Gandhi's withdrawal of the movement after the violent murders of policemen by villagers from Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, Singh, disgruntled with Gandhi's nonviolence action, joined the Young Revolutionary Movement and began advocating a violent movement against the British.

In 1923, Bhagat famously won an essay competition set by the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. This grabbed the attention of members of the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan including its General Secretary Professor Bhim Sen Vidyalankar. At this age, he quoted famous Punjabi literature and discussed the Problems of the Punjab. He read a lot of poetry and literature which was written by Punjabi writers and his favourite poet was Allama Iqbal from Sialkot.

In his teenage years, Bhagat Singh started studying at the National College in Lahore, but ran away from home to escape early marriage, and became a member of the organisation Naujawan Bharat Sabha ("Youth Society of India"). In the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Singh and his fellow revolutionaries grew popular amongst the youth. He also joined the Hindustan Republican Association through introduction by history teacher, Professor Vidyalankar, which had prominent leaders like Ram Prasad Bismil, Chandrashekhar Azad and Ashfaqulla Khan. It is believed that he went to Kanpur to attempt free Kakori train robbery prisoners from the jail, but returned to Lahore for unknown reasons. On the day of Dasara in October 1926, a bomb was blasted in Lahore, and Bhagat Singh was arrested for his alleged involvement in this Dasara Bomb Case in 29 May 1927, and was released on a bail of Rs.60,000 after about five weeks of his arrest. He wrote for and edited Urdu and Punjabi newspapers published from Amritsar.  In September 1928, a meeting of various revolutionaries from across India was called at Delhi under the banner of the Kirti Kissan Party. Bhagat Singh was the secretary of the meet. His later revolutionary activities were carried out as a leader of this association.


A rare historical photograph of students and staff of National College, Lahore, which was started by Lala Lajpat Rai for education of students participating in the non-cooperation movement. Bhagat Singh can be seen standing fourth from the right.

The British government created a commission under Sir John Simon to report on the current political situation in India in 1928. The Indian political parties boycotted the commission because it did not include a single Indian as its member and it was met with protests all over the country. When the commission visited Lahore on 30 October 1928, Lala Lajpat Rai led a non-violent protest against Simon Commission in a silent march, but the police responded with violence. The superintendent of police, James A. Scott, ordered the police lathi charge against the non-violent protesters and personally assaulted Lala Lajpat Rai, who was grievously injured. When Rai died less than three weeks later, it was widely assumed that Scott’s blows had hastened his demise. Bhagat Singh vowed to take revenge. He joined with other revolutionaries, Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar, Jai Gopal and Chandrashekhar Azad, in a plot to kill the Superintendent of police, J. A. Scott. Jai Gopal was supposed to identify the chief and signal for Singh to shoot. However, in a case of mistaken identity, Gopal signalled Singh on the appearance of John P. Saunders, an Assistant Superintendent of Police. J.P. Saunders in his early twenties, still a probationer, while leaving the District Police Headquarters at about 4:15 p.m. on December 17, 1928 was mistaken as Scott and shot by Rajguru and Bhagat Singh. Head Constable Chanan Singh was also killed when he came to his help.

Bhagat Singh, in a western attire to avoid recognition and escape from Lahore to Calcutta.

After killing Saunders, they escaped through the D.A.V. College entrance, on the other side of the road. Head Constable Chanan Singh who chased them was fatally injured by Chandrashekhar Azad's covering fire. They then fled on bicycles to the prearranged places of safety. The police launched a massive search operation to nab the culprits and blocked all exits and entrances. The police sealed all roads from the city; the CID kept a watch at the railway stations and all young men leaving Lahore were carefully scrutinized. They kept themselves underground for the next two days.

Sukhdev called at Mrs Durga Devi Vohra after 10 p.m. on December 19, 1928. She agreed to help them out. It was settled that they would catch the train leaving Lahore for Howrah en route Bathinda the next morning at 6:10. That train was chosen because they could leave in the early hours before the arrival of CID picket. Bhagat Singh in Western dress carrying the sleeping infant, Durga in her most impressive attire and Rajguru shuffling under luggage, left the house at about 5 a.m. long before the members of the CID arrived. On reaching the station, Bhagat Singh keeping his facial profile reasonably covered on one side with a slightly raised collar of the overcoat and on the other by the sleeping infant, purchased two tickets, a joint second class Christmas return ticket and a third class one for the servant, for Cawnpur. They walked side by side into the railway station with Rajguru carrying the luggage behind in a servile manner. Both men carried concealed loaded revolvers with them for facing any untoward incident, because police parties in uniform as well as in civil clothes were watching carefully all departures from Lahore. An impressively respectable young couple carrying a child, in Western style dress holding a joint second class Christmas return ticket cast a spell over the police and they boarded the train without causing any suspicion. To avoid recognition, Bhagat Singh shaved his beard and cut his hair, a violation of the sacred tenets of Sikhism.

Breaking journey at Cawnpur they went to Lucknow, as the CID at Howrah kept a close watch on passengers coming directly from Lahore. At Lucknow Rajguru parted company and left for Varanasi. Bhagat Singh, Durga Devi and the infant went to Howrah, and moved to Shushila Didi’s place. Durga Devi went back to Lahore a few days later.

In the face of actions by the revolutionaries, the British government enacted the Defence of India Act to give more power to the police. The purpose of the Act was to combat revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh. However, the Act was then passed under the ordinance that claimed that it was in the best interest of the public. In response to this act, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association planned to explode a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly where the ordinance was going to be passed. This idea was originated by Bhagat Singh, who was influenced by a similar bombing by a martyr anarchist Auguste Vaillant in the French Assembly. It was decided that Bhagat Singh should go to Russia, while Batukeshwar Dutt should carry on the bombing with Sukhdev. Sukhdev then forced Bhagat Singh to call for another meeting and here it was decided, against the initial agreement, that Batukeshwar Dutt and Bhagat Singh would carry on the bombing. Bhagat Singh also disapproved that the two should be escorted after the bombing by the rest of the party.

On 8 April 1929, Singh and Dutt threw two bombs onto the assembly and shouted "Inquilab Zindabad!" ("Long Live the Revolution!"). This was followed by a shower of leaflets stating that it takes a loud noice to make the deaf hear.

The bombs did not kill anyone; Singh and Dutt claimed that this was deliberate on their part, a claim substantiated both by British forensics investigators who found that the bomb was not powerful enough to cause injury, and by the fact that the bomb was thrown away from people. Singh and Dutt gave themselves up for arrest after the bomb. He and Dutt were sentenced to 'Transportation for Life' for the bombing on 12 June 1929.

Bhagat Singh's trial is an important event in the Indian history because it defied the fundamental doctrine of criminal jurisprudence. The trial was held ex-parte in breach of the principles of natural justice according to which No man shall be condemned unless he is given a hearing.

On April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutt threw two bombs and leaflets in the Central Legislative Assembly to make the deaf hear. As intended, nobody was hurt by the low intensity explosion as Bhagat Singh had aimed the bomb carefully, to land away from the seated members, on the floor. Bhagat Singh and B.K.Dutt let themselves be arrested, even when they could have escaped, to use their court appearances as a forum for revolutionary propaganda to advocate the revolutionaries’ point of view and, in the process, rekindle patriotic sentiments in the hearts of the people. Bhagat Singh surrendered his automatic pistol, the same one he had used to pump bullets into Saunder’s body, knowing fully well that the pistol would be the highest proof of his involvement in the Saunders’ case. On 15 April 1929, the 'Lahore Bomb Factory' was discovered by the Lahore police, and the other members of HSRA were arrested, out of which 7 turned informants, helping the police to connect Bhagat Singh in the murder of J. P. Saunders.  Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were charged with the murder. Bhagat Singh decided to use the court as a tool to publicise his cause for the independence of India. Bhagat Singh was charged with attempt to murder under section 307 of the Indian Penal Code. Asaf Ali, a member of the Congress Party was his lawyer. The Trial started on 7 May 1929. The Crown was represented by the public prosecutor Rai Bahadur Suryanarayan and the trial magistrate was a British Judge, P.B Pool. The prosecution’s star witness was Sergeant Terry who said that a pistol had been found on Bhagat Singh’s person when he was arrested in the Assembly. This was not factually correct because Bhagat Singh had himself surrendered the pistol while asking the police to arrest him. Even the eleven witnesses who said that they had seen the two throwing the bombs seemed to have been tutored. The entire incident had been so sudden that nobody could have anticipated it. The magistrate committed both of them to the Sessions Court of Judge Leonard Middleton. Judge Middleton ruled that he had no doubt that the defendant’s acts were ‘deliberate’ and rejected the plea that the bombs were deliberately low-intensity bombs since the impact of the explosion had shattered the wood of one and a half inch thickness in the Assembly. The two were persuaded to file an appeal which was rejected and they were sentenced to transportation for life (fourteen years).

The police had gathered ‘substantial evidence’ against Bhagat Singh and he was charged with involvement in the killings of Saunders and Head Constable Chanan Singh. The authorities had collected nearly 600 witnesses to establish their charges, which included his colleagues, Jai Gopal and Hans Raj Vohra turning government approvers. Singh was re-arrested for the murder of Saunders and the life imprisonment sentence was kept in abeyance till the outcome of the murder trial.

Bhagat Singh was sent to Mianwali Jail and B. Dutt to Borstal Jail in Lahore. On reaching Mianwali jail, Bhagat Singh found that European prisoners got better accomodation, food and daily use items compared to Indian prisoners. While in jail, Bhagat Singh and other prisoners launched a hunger strike advocating for the rights of prisoners and those facing trial. The reason for the strike was that British criminals were treated better than Indian political prisoners, who, by law, were meant to be given better rights. The aims in their strike were to ensure a decent standard of food for political prisoners, the availability of books and a daily newspaper, as well as better clothing and the supply of toiletry necessities and other hygienic necessities. He also demanded that political prisoners should not be forced to do any labour or undignified work.

As the fast progressed without any solution in sight, Jawaharlal Nehru met Bhagat Singh and the other protesters. He said, "I was very much pained to see the distress of the heroes. They have staked their lives in this struggle. They want that political prisoners should be treated as political prisoners. I am quite hopeful that their sacrifice would be crowned with success".

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, one of the politicians present when the Central Legislative Assembly was bombed, made no secret of his sympathies for the Lahore prisoners - commenting on the hunger strike he said, "The man who goes on hunger strike has a soul. He is moved by that soul, and he believes in the justice of his cause." And talking of Singh's actions, he said, "...however much you deplore them and however much you say they are misguided, it is the system, this damnable system of governance, which is resented by the people...".

The Government tried several tricks to break the strike. They placed dishes of different types of food in the prison cells to test the resolve of the strikers. Water pitchers were filled with milk so that either the prisoners remained thirsty or broke their strike. But nobody faltered. The authorities attempted forced-feeding, but were resisted. One of the prisoners, Kasuri, swallowed red pepper and drank hot water to clog the feeding tube. The Governor came down from Shimla to meet the jail authorities. There was no breakthrough.

When the Government realized that this fast had riveted the attention of the people throughout the country, it decided to hurry up the trial, which came to known as the Lahore Conspiracy Case. This trial started in Borstal Jail, Lahore, on 10 July 1929. Rai Sahib Pandit Sri Kishen, a first class magistrate, was the judge for this trial. Bhagat Singh and twenty-seven others were charged with murder, conspiracy and wagering war against the King. A handcuffed Bhagat Singh, still on hunger strike, had to be brought to the court in a stretcher and his weight had fallen by 14 pounds, from 133 to 119. By then, the condition of Jatindra Nath Das, who was lodged in the same jail and was also on hunger strike, had deteriorated considerably. The jail committee recommended his unconditional release, but the government rejected the suggestion and offered to release him on bail. Jatin died on September 13, 1929. His fast lasted 63 days. After his death, the Viceroy informed London:

Jatin Das of the Conspiracy Case, who was on hunger strike, died this afternoon at 1 p.m. Last night, five of the huunger strikers gave up their hunger strike. So there are only Bhagat Singh and Dutt who are on strike ...

The highest tributes were paid by almost every leader in the country. Mohammad Alam and Gopi Chand Bhargava resigned from the Punjab Legislative Council in protest. Motilal Nehru proposed the adjournment of the Central Assembly as a censure against the inhumanity of the Lahore prisoners. The censure motion was carried by 55 votes against 47.

The Jail Committee requested him to give up his hunger strike and finally it was his father who had his way, armed with a resolution from the Congress party urging them to give up their strike; and it was on the 116th day of their fast, on October 5, 1929 that Bhagat Singh and Dutt gave up their strike (surpassing the 97 day world record for hunger strikes which was set by an Irish revolutionary). During this hunger strike that lasted 116 days and ended with the British succumbing to his wishes, he gained much popularity among the common Indians. Before the strike his popularity was limited mainly to the Punjab region.

Bhagat Singh started refocusing on his trial. The crown was represented by the government advocate C.H.Carden-Noad and was assisted by Kalandar Ali Khan, Gopal Lal, and Bakshi Dina Nath who was the prosecuting inspector. The accused were defended by 8 different lawyers. When Jai Gopal turned approver, Verma, the youngest of the accused, hurled a slipper at him. The case was ordered to be carried out without members of the HSRA present at the hearing. This created an uproar amongst Singh's supporters as he could no longer publicise his views.

The case proceeded at a snail's pace. On 1 May 1930, by declaring an emergency, the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, promulgated an Ordinance to set up a tribunal to try this case. This Special Tribunal was given the power to proceed with the case in the absence of the accused and accept death of the persons giving evidence as a benefit to the defence. The Ordinance, Lahore Conspiracy Case Ordinance No.3 of 1930, was to put an end to the proceedings pending in the magistrate’s court. The case was transferred from the court of Rai Sahib Pandit Sri Kishan to a Special Tribunal of three high court judges without any right to appeal, except to the Privy Council.

The case opened on 5 May 1930 in the stately Poonch House. Rajguru challenged the very constitution of the tribunal and said that it was illegal ultra vires. According to him, the Viceroy did not have the power to cut short the normal legal procedure. The Government of India Act, 1915, authorized the Viceroy to promulgate an Ordinance to set up a tribunal but only when the situation demanded whereas now there was no breakdown in the law and order situation. The tribunal however, ruled that the petition was ‘premature’. Carden-Noad, the government advocate elaborated on the charges which included dacoities, robbing money from banks and the collection of arms and ammunition. The evidence of G.T. Hamilton Harding, senior superintendent of police, took the court by surprise, as he said that he had filed the FIR against the accused under the instructions of the chief secretary to the government of Punjab and he did not know the facts of the case. There were five approvers in total out of which Jai Gopal, Hans Raj Vohra and P.N.Ghosh had been associated with the HRSA for a long time. It was on their stories that the prosecution relied. The tribunal depended on Section 9 (1) of the Ordinance and on 10 July 1930, issued an order, and copies of the framed charges were served on the fifteen accused in jail, together with copies of an order intimating them that their pleas would be taken on the charges the following day. This trial was a long and protracted one, beginning on 5 May 1930, and ending on 10 September 1930. The tribunal framed charges against fifteen out of the eighteen accused. The case against B.K.Dutt was withdrawn as he had already been sentenced to transportation for life in the Assembly Bomb Case.

On 7 October 1930, about three weeks before the expiry of its term, the tribunal delivered its judgement, sentencing Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru to death by hanging. Others were sentenced to transportation for life and rigorous imprisonment. This judgement was a 300-page one which went into the details of the evidence and said that Bhagat Singh’s participation in the Saunders’ murder was the most serious and important fact proved against him and it was fully established by evidence. The warrants for the three were marked with a black border.

The undertrials of the Chittagong Armoury Raid Case sent an appeal to Gandhiji to intervene. A defence committee was constituted in Punjab to file an appeal to the Privy Council against the sentence. Bhagat Singh did not favour the appeal but his only satisfaction was that the appeal would draw the attention of people in England to the existence of the HSRA. In the case of Bhagat Singh v. The King Emperor, the points raised by the appellant was that the ordinance promulgated to constitute a special tribunal for the trial was invalid. The government argued that Section 72 of the Government of India Act, 1915 gave the governor-general unlimited powers to set up a tribunal. Judge Viscount Dunedin who read the judgment dismissed the appeal. Thus from the lower court to the tribunal to the Privy Council, it was a preordained judgement in flagrant violation of all tenets of natural justice and a fair and free trial.

An abortive plan had been made to rescue Bhagat Singh and fellow inmates of HSRA from the jail, for the purpose of which Bhagwati Charan Vohra made bombs, but died making them as they exploded accidentally.

Bhagat Singh also maintained the use of a diary, in which he eventually wrote 404 pages. In this diary he made numerous notes relating to the quotations and popular sayings of various people whose views he supported. Prominent in his diary were the views of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.[57] The comments in his diary led to an understanding of the philosophical thinking of Bhagat Singh While in the condemned cell, he also wrote a pamphlet entitled "Why I am an atheist", as he was being accused of vanity by not accepting God in the face of death. It is also said that he signed a mercy petition through a comrade Bijoy Kumar Sinha on 8 March 1931.

Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death in the Lahore conspiracy case and ordered to be hanged on March 24, 1931. On 23 March 1931 at 7:30 pm, Bhagat Singh was hanged in Lahore Jail with his fellow comrades Rajguru and Sukhdev. According to the Superintendent of Police (political) Criminal Investigation Department, Punjab, at the time, wrote in his memoirs on “The Saunders Murder Case”:

Normally execution took place at 8 am, but it was decided to act at once before the public could become aware of what had happened... at about 7 pm shouts of Inquilab Zindabad were heard from inside the jail. This was correctly, interpreted as a signal that the final curtain was about to drop.

The Jail authorities then broke the rear wall of the Jail and secretly cremated the three martyrs under cover of darkness on the banks of Sutlej, about 10 km from Ferozepore (about 60 km from Lahore)

The Special Tribunal was a departure from the normal procedure adopted for a trial. There was no appeal except to the Privy Council located in England. The accused were absent from the court and the judgement was passed ex-parte.

Front page of The Tribune announcing Bhagat Singh's execution.

The execution of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were reported widely by the press, especially as they were on the eve of the annual convention of the Congress party at Karachi. The New York Times reported:

A reign of terror in the city of Cawnpore in the United Provinces and an attack on Mahatma Gandhi by a youth outside Karachi were among the answers of the Indian extremists today to the hanging of Bhagat Singh and two fellow-assassins.

Hartals and strikes of mourning were called. The Congress party, during the Karachi session, declared:

While dissociating itself from and disapproving of political violence in any shape or form, this Congress places on record its admiration of the bravery and sacrifice of Bhagat Singh, Sukh Dev and Raj Guru and mourns with their bereaved families the loss of these lives. The Congress is of the opinion that their triple execution was an act of wanton vengeance and a deliberate flouting of the unanimous demand of the nation for commutation. This Congress is further of the opinion that the [British] Government lost a golden opportunity for promoting good-will between the two nations, admittedly held to be crucial at this juncture, and for winning over to methods of peace a party which, driven to despair, resorts to political violence.

Bhagat Singh was attracted to anarchism and communism. Both communism and western anarchism had influence on him. He read the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Bakunin. Bhagat Singh did not believe in Gandhian philosophy and felt that Gandhian politics would replace one set of exploiters with another. Singh was an atheist and promoted the concept of atheism by writing a pamphlet titled Why I am an Atheist. Bhagat Singh was also an admirer of the writings of Irish revolutionary Terence MacSwiney. When Bhagat Singh's father petitioned the British government to pardon his son, Bhagat Singh quoted Terence MacSwiney and said ""I am confident that my death will do more to smash the British Empire than my release" and told his father to withdraw the petition.

Some of his writings like "Blood Sprinkled on the Day of Holi Babbar Akalis on the Crucifix" were influenced by the struggle of Dharam Singh Hayatpur.

From May to September, 1928, Bhagat Singh serially published several articles on anarchism in Punjabi periodical Kirti. He expressed concern over misunderstanding of the concept of anarchism among the public. Singh tried to eradicate the misconception among people about anarchism. He wrote, "The people are scared of the word anarchism. The word anarchism has been abused so much that even in India revolutionaries have been called anarchist to make them unpopular." As anarchism means absence of ruler and abolition of state, not absence of order, Singh explained, "I think in India the idea of universal brotherhood, the Sanskrit sentence vasudhaiva kutumbakam etc., has the same meaning." He wrote about the growth of anarchism,"the first man to explicitly propagate the theory of Anarchism was Proudhon and that is why he is called the founder of Anarchism. After him a Russian, Bakunin, worked hard to spread the doctrine. He was followed by Prince Kropotkin etc."

Singh explained anarchism in the article:

The ultimate goal of Anarchism is complete independence, according to which no one will be obsessed with God or religion, nor will anybody be crazy for money or other worldly desires. There will be no chains on the body or control by the state. This means that they want to eliminate: the Church, God and Religion; the state; Private property.

Bhagat Singh was also influenced by Marxism. He unambiguously stated in his last testament that the ideal for him and his comrades was "the social reconstruction on Marxist basis". Indian historian K. N. Panikkar described Singh as one of the early Marxists in India. From 1926, Bhagat Singh studied the history of the revolutionary movement in India and abroad. In his prison notebooks, Singh used quotations from Vladmir Lenin (on imperialism being the highest stage of capitalism) and Trotsky on revolution. In written documents, when asked what was his last wish, he replied that he was studying the life of Lenin and he wanted to finish it before his death.

Singh began to question religious ideologies after witnessing the Hindu-Muslim riots that broke out after Gandhi disbanded the Non-Cooperation Movement. He did not understand how members of these two groups, initially united in fighting against the British, could be at each others' throats because of their religious differences. At this point, Singh dropped his religious beliefs, since he believed religion hindered the revolutionaries' struggle for independence, and began studying the works of Bakunin, Lenin, Trotsky — all atheist revolutionaries. He also took an interest in Niralamba Swami's book Common Sense, which advocated a form of "mystic atheism".

While in a condemned cell in 1931, he wrote a pamphlet entitled Why I am an Atheist in which he discusses and advocates the philosophy of atheism. This pamphlet was a result of some criticism by fellow revolutionaries on his failure to acknowledge religion and God while in a condemned cell, the accusation of vanity was also dealt with in this pamphlet. He supported his own beliefs and claimed that he used to be a firm believer in The Almighty, but could not bring himself to believe the myths and beliefs that others held close to their hearts. In this pamphlet, he acknowledged the fact that religion made death easier, but also said that unproved philosophy is a sign of human weakness. In this context he has said:

As regard the origin of God, my thought is that man created God in his imagination when he realized his weaknesses, limitations and shortcomings. In this way he got the courage to face all the trying circumstances and to meet all dangers that might occur in his life and also to restrain his outbursts in prosperity and affluence. God, with his whimsical laws and parental generosity was painted with variegated colours of imagination. He was used as a deterrent factor when his fury and his laws were repeatedly propagated so that man might not become a danger to society. He was the cry of the distressed soul for he was believed to stand as father and mother, sister and brother, brother and friend when in time of distress a man was left alone and helpless. He was Almighty and could do anything. The idea of God is helpful to a man in distress.

Bhagat Singh, Why I am an Atheist

Bhagat Singh was known for his appreciation of martyrdom. His mentor as a young boy was Kartar Singh Sarabha. Singh is himself considered a martyr for acting to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. In the leaflet he threw in the Central Assembly on 9 April 1929, he stated that It is easy to kill individuals but you cannot kill the ideas. Great empires crumbled while the ideas survived. After engaging in studies on 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, Bhagat Singh and two others had written a letter to the Viceroy asking him to treat them as prisoners of war and hence to execute them by firing squad and not by hanging. Prannath Mehta, Bhagat 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's life is the subject of controversy.

Many believe that Bhai Randhir Singh, a revolutionary of the first Lahore Conspiracy Case and Gadhar, prison inmate and a known figure in Sikh circles, met with Bhagat Singh in condemned cells in Lahore Central Jail on 4 October 1930, when Randhir Singh was released from the jail, as mentioned in his book "Jail Chithiyan" by Randhir Singh himself. Bhagat was condemned on 7 October 1930 contradicting his presence in condemned cells on the 4 October. According to Randhir Singh, Bhagat mentioned to him, that he (Bhagat Singh) had shaven "hair and beard under pressing circumstances" and that "It was for the service of the country" that his companions "compelled him to give up the Sikh appearance" adding to it that he was "ashamed". He had expressed, as his last wish before being hanged, the desire to get "amrit" from Randhir Singh and to once again adorn the 5 k's. However, his last wish, of getting "amrit" was not granted by the British. Some scholars are skeptic about this meeting as, Randhir Singh being the only source of information about sudden change in Bhagat Singh's point of view towards religion casts doubts, as Bhagat Singh had been a strong critic of religion." And Bhagat Singh had also mentioned towards the end of his article 'Why I am an Atheist':

Let us see how steadfast I am. One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “When your last days come, you will begin to believe.” I said, “No, dear sir, Never shall it happen. I consider it to be an act of degradation and demoralisation. For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray.” Reader and friends, is it vanity? If it is, I stand for it.

Bhagat Singh, Why I am an Atheist

Many conspiracy theories exist regarding Singh, especially the events surrounding his death:

One of the most popular ones is that Mahatma Gandhi had an opportunity to stop Singh's execution but did not. A variation of this theory is that Gandhi actively conspired with the British to have Singh executed. Gandhi's supporters say that Gandhi did not have enough influence with the British to stop the execution, much less arrange it. Furthermore, Gandhi's supporters assert that Singh's role in the independence movement was no threat to Gandhi's role as its leader, and so Gandhi would have no reason to want him dead.

Gandhi, during his lifetime, always maintained that he was a great admirer of Singh's patriotism. He also said that he was opposed to Singh's execution (and, for that matter, capital punishment in general) and proclaimed that he had no power to stop it. On Singh's execution, Gandhi said, "The government certainly had the right to hang these men. However, there are some rights which do credit to those who possess them only if they are enjoyed in name only." Gandhi also once said, on capital punishment, "I cannot in all conscience agree to anyone being sent to the gallows. God alone can take life because He alone gives it."

Gandhi had managed to have 90,000 political prisoners who were not members of his Satyagraha movement released under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. According to a report in the Indian magazine Frontline, he did plead several times for the commutation of the death sentence of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, including a personal visit on 19 March 1931, and in a letter to the Viceroy on the day of their execution, pleading fervently for commutation, not knowing that the letter would be too late.

Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, later said:

As I listened to Mr. Gandhi putting the case for commutation before me, I reflected first on what significance it surely was that the apostle of non-violence should so earnestly be pleading the cause of the devotees of a creed so fundamentally opposed to his own, but I should regard it as wholly wrong to allow my judgment to be influenced by purely political considerations. I could not imagine a case in which under the law, penalty had been more directly deserved.

However, Gandhi did appreciate Bhagat's patriotism and how he had overcome the fear of death, but did not support the violence involved.[95]

On 28 October 2005, a book entitled Some Hidden Facts: Martyrdom of Shaheed Bhagat Singh—Secrets unfurled by an Intelligence Bureau Agent of British-India [sic] by K.S. Kooner and G.S. Sindhra was released. The book asserts that Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were deliberately hanged in such a manner as to leave all three in a semi-conscious state, so that all three could later be taken outside the prison and shot dead by the Saunders family. The book says that this was a prison operation codenamed "Operation Trojan Horse." Scholars are sceptical of the book's claims.

Bhagat Singh's death had the effect that he desired and he inspired thousands of youths to assist the remainder of the Indian independence movement. After his hanging, youths in regions around Northern India rioted in protest against the British Raj and Gandhi.

  • National Martyrs Memorial
The National Martyrs Memorial Hussainiwala, built in memory of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru

Bhagat Singh was cremated at Hussainiwala on banks of Sutlej river. The National Martyrs Memorial Hussainiwala, built in 1968, depicts an irrepressible revolutionary spirit of the three National Martyrs, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. The memorial is located just one km from the India-Pakistan border on the Indian side and has memorials of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. After Partition, the cremation spot went to Pakistan but on January 17, 1961, this martyr's land was received when India gave 12 villages near the Sulemanki Headworks (Fazilka) to Pakistan. But the irony of the fate is that during 1971 Indo-Pak war, the statues of these very martyrs were removed and taken away by Pakistan army and have not been returned till today. B.K. Dutt was also cremated here on 19 July 1965 and in accordance with his last wishes. Bhagat Singh's mother, Punjab Mata Vidyawati, was also cremated here in accordance with her last wish.

This memorial was damaged by the withdrawing Pakistani troops in 1972. They also removed the busts of the three national heroes during 1971 war when the area was captured by Pakistani troops. The memorial came up once again in 1973 due to the efforts of the then Punjab Chief Minister, Giani Zail Singh.

Every year, on the 23rd of March, the Shaheedi Mela is observed at this National Martyrs Memorial at Hussainiwala, in which thousands of people pay their homage. The day is also observed across the state of Punjab.

Bhagat Singh Museum & Bhagat Singh Memorial

A museum by the name "Shaheed-e-azam Sardar Bhagat Singh Museum" has been built at his maternal village, Khatkar Kalan, where sand and newspaper stained with his blood and his half burnt bones are preserved.

The Bhagat Singh Memorial was built in 2009 in his hometown of Khatkar Kalan at a cost of Rs.168 million.

Statues of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev

Singh's contribution to Indian society and, in particular, the future of socialism in India. To celebrate the centenary of his birth, a group of intellectuals have set up an institution to commemorate Singh and his ideals.

Several popular Bollywood films have been made capturing the life and times of Bhagat Singh. Possibly the first is Shaheed-e-Azad Bhagat Singh (1954), followed by Shaheed Bhagat Singh (1963), starring Shammi Kapoor as Singh. Two years later, Manoj Kumar portrayed Bhagat Singh in an immensely popular and landmark film, Shaheed. Two major films about Singh were released in 2002, The Legend of Bhagat Singh and 23rd March 1931: Shaheed. The Legend of Bhagat Singh is Rajkumar Santoshi's adaptation, in which Ajay Devgan played Singh and Amrita Rao was featured in a brief role. 23rd March 1931: Shaheed was directed by Guddu Dhanoa and starred Bobby Deol as Singh, with Sunny Deol and Aishwarya Rai in supporting roles. Another major film Shaheed-E-Azam, starring Sonu Sood, Maanav Vij, Rajinder Gupta, and Sadhana Singh, and directed by Sukumar Nair, also was produced by Iqbal Dhillon under the banner Surjit Movies.

Movies on Bhagat Singh

  • Shaheed-e-Azad Bhagat Singh (1954)
  • Shaheed Bhagat Singh (1963)
  • Shaheed (1965)
  • The Legend of Bhagat Singh(2002)
  • 23rd March 1931: Shaheed(2002)
  • Shaheed-E-Azam(2003)
  • Rang De Basanti(2006)

The 2006 film Rang De Basanti is a film drawing parallels between revolutionaries of Bhagat Singh's era and modern Indian youth. It covers a lot of Bhagat Singh's role in the Indian freedom struggle. The movie revolves around a group of college students and how they each play the roles of Bhagat's friends and family.

The patriotic Urdu and Hindi songs, Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna (translated as "the desire to sacrifice") and Mera Rang De Basanti Chola ("my light-yellow-coloured cloak"; Basanti referring to the light-yellow color of the Mustard flower grown in the Punjab and also one of the two main colours of the Sikh religion as per the Sikh rehat meryada (code of conduct of the Sikh Saint-Soldier)), while created by Ram Prasad Bismil, are largely associated to Bhagat Singh's martyrdom and have been used in a number of Bhagat Singh-related films.

In September 2007 the Governor of Punjab province, Khalid Maqbool, announced that a memorial to Bhagat Singh would be displayed at Lahore Museum. According to the governor: “Singh was the first martyr of the subcontinent and his example was followed by many youth of the time." Howeevr, the promise remains unfulfilled. In 2008, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) and Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), a non-profit organisation, co-produced 40 documentary on Bhagat Singh, titled, Inqilab directed by Gauhar Raza

Bhagat Singh was criticised both by his contemporaries and by people after his death because of his violent and revolutionary stance towards the British and his strong opposition to the pacifist stance taken by the Indian National Congress and particularly Mahatma Gandhi.

The methods he used to make his point—shooting Saunders and throwing non-lethal bombs—were quite different from Gandhi's non-violent methodology.

  • "The aim of life is no more to control the mind, but to develop it harmoniously; not to achieve salvation here after, but to make the best use of it here below; and not to realise truth, beauty and good only in contemplation, but also in the actual experience of daily life; social progress depends not upon the ennoblement of the few but on the enrichment of democracy; universal brotherhood can be achieved only when there is an equality of opportunity - of opportunity in the social, political and individual life." — from Bhagat Singh's prison diary, p. 124


  • "Any man who stands for progress has to criticize, disbelieve and challenge every item of the old faith. Item by item he has to reason out every nook and corner of the prevailing faith. If after considerable reasoning one is led to believe in any theory or philosophy, his faith is welcomed. His reasoning can be mistaken, wrong, misled and sometimes fallacious. But he is liable to correction because reason is the guiding star of his life. But mere faith and blind faith is dangerous: it dulls the brain, and makes a man reactionary." - Why I am an atheist? (1930)

Bhagat Singh - Pakistan's Unsung Hero: A Common Hero of The India-Pakistan Subcontinent

Author: Muhammad Arslan Ashraf

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Editorial Review: The case for the official recognition of Bhagat Singh, a common hero of India and Pakistan who was born and sentenced in the area came to be known as Pakistan. In the recent years, many Pakistanis have stood up for this cause. The Shadman Chowk or roundabout, the spot which was previously a part of Lahore Central Jail and the same spot where Bhagat Singh was hanged, has become a symbol of this recognition struggle.


The Selected Works of Bhagat Singh

Author: Bhagat Singh
Manufacturer: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Amazon Price: $11.99
Offers - Buy New From: $9.86 Used From: $11.61
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Editorial Review: Together in one place, the most important works of Bhagat Singh, the Indian communist revolutionary who was executed by the British colonizers in 1931 at the age of 23. This uncompromising fighter for an end of "exploitation of man by man and nations by nations" remains a revered hero of oppressed people around the world today.


Bhagat Singh: A True Patriot (Fast Track Biographies Book 1)

Author: Ana Books

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Editorial Review: Biographies have a unique place in literature. They allow us intimate glimpses of lives that we have observed only from afar, lives that are inaccessible to us on account of time or circumstance. Biographies of great men and women are inspirational; we learn many valuable lessons of life from them, lessons that guide us in our own journey of life. Underscoring the fact that sometimes, truth is indeed stranger than fiction, biographies often record acts of heroism, feats of accomplishment and tales of endurance that surpass even those that imagination can conjure. Biographies are invaluable in understanding history and the events that underpin it. A good biography is not just a portrait of an individual but also a portrait of the times that created him or her.
Fast Track Biographies series offers young readers an excellent introduction to the great figures who strode on the world's stage leaving behind their unique imprint on the realms of art, politics, science and other fields of human endeavour, in language that is simple and accessible.


Without Fear: The Life & Trial of Bhagat Singh

Author: Kuldip Nayar
Manufacturer: HarperCollins India
Amazon Price: $19.95
Offers - Buy New From: $4.71 Used From: $9.20
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Editorial Review: Language: English
Pages: 264

About the Book


Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) lived at a time when India's freedom struggle was beginning to flag and when Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent, passive resistance to partial liberation was beginning to test the patience of the people, The youth of India was inspired by Bhagat Singh's call to arms and enthused by the defiance and daredevilry of the army wing of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association to which he and his comrades, Sukhdev and Rajguru, belonged. His call, Inqtlilab Zindabadl, became the war-cry of the fight for freedom.

When Bhagat Singh was executed by the British after a sham trial for his involvement in the Lahore Conspiracy Case at the age ofrwenry-three, he was glorified by Indians as a martyr - for his youth, his heroism, and his steadfast courage in the face of certain death. It was only many years later - after Independence in 1947- that his jail writings came to light. Today, it is these works that set Bhagat Singh apart from the many revolutionaries who laid down their lives for India. They reveal him as not just a passionate freedom- fighter who believed in the cult of the bomb but a widely read intellectual inspired by the writings of, among others, Marx, Lenin, Bertrand Russell and Victor Hugo; a revolutionary whose vision did not end with the ouster of the British, but who looked further, towards a secular, socialist India.

In IPithollt Fear: The Life and Trial 0/ Bhagat Singh, Kuldip Nayar takes a close look at the man behind the martyr: his beliefs, his intellectual leanings, his dreams and his despair. It explains for the first time why Hans Raj Vohra turned approver and betrayed Bhagat Singh, and throws ne


Bhagat Singh (Amar Chitra Katha)

Author: Anant Pai
Manufacturer: Amar Chitra Katha
Amazon Price: $5.99
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Editorial Review: Bhagat Singh was a fighter for freedom from British rule in India. Born in a Sikh family of patriots, he was an activist even as a student. He was member of a group of revolutionaries who did not shun the use of arms. They knew that theirs was not a decisive battle against the mighty foreign power. They however wished to rouse the masses into action against the rulers. Bhagat Singh's life story is full of thrilling episodes of bravery and talent in a hostile environment. India achieved freedom sixteen years after Bhagat Singh and his comrades faced the British gallows with undaunted courage.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 June 2012 09:09

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