March 23 is the death anniversary of one of the most heroic figures of the Indian freedom movement. Few people remember it, though. Forget the rest of India, even the children of the village where he was born, do not know anything about him. The Free Press Journal in its issue of 24th March 1931 wrote: “S. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev live no longer. In their death lies their victory let there be no mistaking it. The bureaucracy has annihilated the mortal frame. The nation has assimilated the immortal spirit. Thus shall Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev live eternally to the dismay of the bureaucracy. . . . To the nation, Bhagat Singh and colleagues will ever remain the symbols of martyrdom in the cause of freedom.”
Bhagat Singh’s ideological world and political perspectives were shaped by his deep study of radical literature, which enabled him to develop an egalitarian view of society. From this literature he imbibed the ideas of democracy, socialism and rationalism, which eventually became the guiding principles of his political and social philosophy. He envisioned a system in which there was “no exploitation of man by man and nation by nation”. He realised that a qualitative change in the existing social relations was necessary for ushering in such a condition.
Many aspects of the life and work of Bhagat Singh have been written about. While Bhagat Singh continues to remain an icon for modern-day Indian youth, the fact that needs to be underlined is that he and his associates acquired the status of living legends even in their brief life time. This is confirmed by the fact that the British clandestinely advanced the hanging of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev fearing a public outrage. In an unprecedented manner, these legendary heroes of the Indian freedom movement were hanged until death at dusk on March 23, 1931 instead of the 24th morning. The British tried to surreptitiously dispose the bodies at Hussainwallah on the banks of the Sutlej.
There are various elements of Bhagat Singh’s life that have contributed to his immortal legend, heroism, sacrifice, the political clarity and the ability to catch the imagination of the people. The Hindi film industry has now converted this legend into an icon. During the first few years of this century, at least six films have been made on this revolutionary. The last in this series being the very creative effort, Rang De Basanti. The title of the film comes from the immortal song which Bhagat Singh and his associates supposedly sang as they were marching to the gallows. Though the film was come under severe criticism for its alleged projection of nihilism, the essential thrust is being missed. In actual life, many individuals may associate passionately with a political project due to various reasons and under varied circumstances. The moot question, however, is, when it comes to the crunch, whether these individuals stand up to their political convictions, or, not. This is the acid test. The protagonists in this film (including one who vacillates) embrace a sure death out of conviction and not being pushed into that position by circumstances. The option to opt out was always there. But, they choose not to do so.
This is exactly what Bhagat Singh and his associates did. They marched to death with a smile. When the hangman offers him to pray before death, he says, “I have neither fear of death nor belief in God”. In terms of political belief, while firmly abjuring “the cult of the bomb and the pistol”, as Bhagat Singh himself notes, they chose to throw the bomb at the Delhi assembly and murder Saunders with pistol under the firm belief that these actions would galvanise the youth to seek freedom.
Bipan Chandra has rightly concluded in the 1970s book on Bhagat Singh—- Why i am an atheist, that “it is one of the greatest tragedies of our people that this giant of a brain was brought to a stop so early by the colonial authorities.” It is the nature of colonialism and imperialism to cause such tragedies, be it in India or Vietnam, in Iraq, Palestine, or Latin America. But the people do avenge these crimes by yet more ferocious struggles against imperialism, if not today, then tomorrow. Our task is to keep the memory of our martyrs fresh, and by doing so we prepare the victories of tomorrow.
I have found this document in the book edited by Sh. Shiv Verma, close associate of Bhagat Singh and a life convict in the same Lahore Conspiracy Case in which Bhagat Singh was hanged. Shiv Verma was also co-prisoner of Bhagat Singh in jail and he has included in his book both the Execution warrant issued by the special tribunal on 7th October 1930,as well as the certificate issued by the Superintendent of the Jail on26th March 1931, which reads as followed by:
“ I hereby certify that the sentence of death passed on Bhagat Singh(name of the martyr is handwritten in otherwise typed certificate) has been duly executed, and that the said Bhagat Singh(again handwritten) was accordingly hanged by the neck till he was dead, at Lahore C. Jail(handwritten) on Monday(handwritten) the 23rd(handwritten) day of march(handwritten 1931 at 7.p.m.(inserted handwritten) that the body remained suspended for a full hour, and was not taken down until life was ascertained by a medical officer to be extinct, error or other misadventure occurred.
Superintendent of the Jail