The Indian freedom struggle was a long drawn affair. Many great revolutionaries laid down their lives to see their country freed of over two centuries of British rule. Alas, a lot of them never got to breathe in Independent India.
One of them was Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, an iconic martyr who gave a new direction to entire revolutionary movement of India. Born on 28 September, 1907 at Banga village of Lyallpur district (now in Pakistan) to a Sikh family, Bhagat Singh was a role model for a generation of India’s freedom fighters and many till date continue to evoke his name as one of India’s greatest patriots who laid down his life for India’s hard won independence in 1947.
1. At the age of 8, Bhagat Singh wanted to grow guns in his fields.
Like every child, Bhagat Singh was fond of games but for him, even at the age of 8 years, the game he wanted to play was to drive out the British colonial rulers from India. Out on his farm, he would often question his father about why can’t they grow guns on the land so that they could harvest a crop that would enable them to fight the British better.
2. Jallianwala Bagh massacre turned Bhagat Singh into a rebel forever.
He was only 12 when a heavily armed British regiment fired indiscriminately on an unarmed gathering on 13 April, 1919 at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. More than a 1000 people were killed in cold blood and many thousands were left injured.
The unprovoked violence jolted the revolutionary child. The day after the massacre, Bhagat Singh did not attend school but slipped out and went to visit the spot where the unarmed people had been shot dead the previous day. From Jallianwala, he collected a fistful of soil that he kept as memento of British atrocities in India for the rest of his life.
3. The Russian Revolution left an ideological impact on Bhagat Singh.
Led by Lenin, the Russian Revolution of 1917 that changed a country of vast proportions was a kind of awakening for the ambitious rebel. Success of the revolution demonstrated that people’s power could overturn regimes and free an oppressed people.
At an early age, he took to reading about socialism and imbibing the ideals of a rebel out to free India of British rule.
4. At College, he founded a Nationalist Youth Organization.
A simmering fire of nationalism found expression when Bhagat Singh joined college in 1923. National College, Lahore had been established by Lala Lajpat Rai, another great nationalist leader of Punjab. With the objective of contributing towards the freedom movement, Bhagat Singh floated the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (Indian Nationalist Youth Organization).
5. Bhagat Singh was a good theater artist with an impressive academic record.
Not many know that Bhagat Singh had good acting skills and was very popular among his fellow students for the performances he staged. His performance in plays like ‘Rana Pratap’, ‘Samrat Chandragupta’ and ‘Bharata Durdasha’ evoked powerful patriotic feelings among the student community of Lahore. In academics too he had an impressive record.
In later life, Bhagat Singh used his theatrical skills very effectively to instill patriotism among fellow Indians.
6. Bhagat Singh was a powerful revolutionary writer.
Fired with a zeal to free India of foreign rule, Bhagat Singh wrote very passionate articles that were published in Urdu and Punjabi newspapers regularly. The journal that Bhagat Singh maintained when imprisoned in Lahore Jail is proof enough about the persuasive and fervent thoughts about freedom and revolution that he held. The journal was smuggled out of prison and is available for all to read.
7. He was multilingual and a voracious reader.
His deep desire for knowledge led Bhagat Singh to read many classics. Having learned Gurumukhi at an early age, he was good at reading and writing in English, Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi.
8. Religious riots turned Bhagat Singh into an Atheist.
On witnessing Hindu Muslim riots that broke out after Mahatma Gandhi disbanded the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1922, Bhagat Singh was opposed to following any religion. Disowning his own Sikh religions, Bhagat Singh expressed his views in ‘Why I am an Atheist’, an essay that he wrote in Lahore Central Jail in 1930.
9. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent methods disappointed Bhagat Singh.
Failing the test of continuing to protest non-violently even under provocation of grave violence that broke out at Chauri-chaura when Mahatma Gandhi called off the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1922 showed the limitations of adopting non-violence as an effective tool for registering strong protests.
Bhagat Singh was enormously disappointed with Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violence methodology. After failure of the Non-Cooperation Movement, he joined the Young Revolutionary Movement and came to the conclusion that armed revolution was the only practical way of winning freedom.
10. For cause of the nation, he chose not to get married.
To avoid a confrontation, Bhagat Singh fled from his home as his family members were trying to get him married. Later, in a letter, he expressed his views about why marriage was not for him.
“My life has been devoted to the noblest cause, that of the opportunity of the nation Therefore, there is no rest or worldly desire that can lure me now“.
11. He cut his hair and shaved his beard for an effective disguise.
Even as a professed atheist, Bhagat Singh did cling onto the Sikh religious identity of retaining a beard and long hair but did not hesitate to shave and cut his hair when he was evading arrest for killing a British police officer who had lethally assaulted Lala Lajpath Rai.
Picture of a clean-shaved Bhagat Singh with a upward curling mustache and wearing a rakish hat is iconic of the great revolutionary. His training in theatrics and disguise enabled him to escape from Lahore to reach Calcutta, from where he remained an active participant in the freedom struggle.
12.‘Inquilab Zindabad’ slogan was coined by Bhagat Singh.
‘Long Live the Revolution’ as ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ became the motto for revolutionaries after Bhagat Singh coined the slogan. A fearless Bhagat Singh accompanied by Batukeshwar Dutt threw bombs into the Central Assembly Hall in Delhi during legislative business hours and did not resist arrest while continuing to shout, “Inquilab Zindabad!” No one was harmed in the bomb attack for they did not mean no harm anyone but it was only used to instill fear among the British rulers.
13. Bhagat Singh protested in jail for better treatment of ‘political prisoners’.
Discriminated against as prisoners, where even British crooks, thieves and other criminals were given better treatments than Indian freedom fighters, Bhagat Singh went on a hunger strike demanding better treatment of political prisoners.
14. Bhagat Singh used his death sentence trial to make a case for India’s freedom.
Facing murder and terror charges, Bhagat Singh intentionally did not oppose or offer any defense during the trial that was surely headed for a death sentence. As a true revolutionary, he used even this opportunity for propagating the cause of India’s freedom from British rule.
“They may kill me, but they cannot kill my ideas. They can crush my body, but they will not be able to crush my spirit,” is how Bhagat Singh responded to the charges.
15. Bhagat Singh’s last wish was death by gunfire.
It was a wish that the British authorities refused to fulfill. Bhagat Singh had asked that he be shot dead by gunfire and not be hanged, something the British refused instantly.
16. Bhagat Singh was cremated secretly.
Fearing riots outside the jail premises where the death sentence was to be carried out, the execution, against all rules and laws, was pre-poned by as much as 11 hours. No magistrate was ready to supervise the hanging. He was secretly cremated on the banks of the River Sutlej by the jail authorities.
17. Bhagat Singh was only 23 years old when he was hanged.
Fearless even in the face of death, Bhagat Singh is said to have faced the gallows with a smiling face. Before being hanged, eye witness accounts say that he shouted, “Down with British imperialism!”
18. Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom ignited a new wave of nationalism.
Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of the freedom struggle were deeply wounded and inspired by Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom. Holding him as an ideal, a wave of many young revolutionaries arose to confront British authorities.