Bhagat Singh’s sacrifice
It’s time to remember his ideals
by Kuldip Nayar
Even Mahatma Gandhi had a tendency to mix religion with popular movements. True, it aroused wide response but in the process it also sowed narrow religious feelings in the minds of people and destroyed the secular ethos of the land. Ram Rajya was a concept of an ideal state in Hindu religion. It was like Palto’s Republic, not attainable.
And terms like Ram Rajya sowed suspicion in the minds of minorities, making them feel that Hindu ideology was being imposed on them. A pluralistic society required a secular approach; even a bit of bias could contaminate the nation. Bhagat Singh, who was hanged on March 23, 1931, studied Bakunin, the anarchist leader, much of Lenin, Trotsky and others. They were all atheists.
Bhagat Singh, whose death anniversary falls this week, had once been a devout believer, an Arya Samajist, although his father was a Sikh. His hair was long, unshorn and unclipped, till his teens. But he could never believe in the mythology and doctrine of Sikhism or any other religion. By the time he came to shoulder the responsibility of revolutionary work, he had undergone a change.
It was in the name of God, Bhagat Singh recalled, that Hindu-Muslim riots broke out after the non-cooperation movement. He had been horrified. How could two communities, who had sunk their religious differences years ago and fought side by side to oust the British, thirst for each other’s blood to support the Caliphate in Turkey? Not that he believed it was a correct cause to take up.
What disappointed him was the ferocity with which members of the two communities jumped at each other’s throats after sharing the same ideals, the same campaigns and even the same jails. They had participated in the movement together yet remained strangers. They never fought as Indians, never as human beings on the grounds of humanity. Religious, political or personal considerations had brought them together. But at heart, they remained biased and bigoted, Hindus and Muslims till the very end.
It seemed strange to Gandhiji that the revolutionaries, who fought against prejudice all their lives, fell victim to it before dying. He was thinking in particular of the revolutionaries in the Kakori case. That they funded revolutionary activities through dacoities was completely acceptable to him, as it was to Chandra Shekhar Azad and some of his comrades.
But the cult of martyrdom was what Bhagat Singh liked most in Sikhism, the faith that he was born into. He would often recall the words of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru. “It is incumbent on people to sacrifice their life to strengthen the cause they uphold.” He derived inspiration from the Guru’s words: “Chidiyan noo baaz nall ladaoon, taan Guru Gobind Singh kahalson.” (Only when I make sparrows fight with eagles, can I be called Guru Gobind Singh.)
But Bhagat Singh did not believe in the cult of Sikhism or, for that matter, any other religion. For him religion was a disease, born out of fear. It was the opium of the masses. He remembered the words of Karl Marx: “Man makes religion, religion does not make man.”
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah too advised people after founding Pakistan that religion should never be mixed with politics. In fact, when he was the Central Assembly member before Partition, he fought for better rights for Bhagat Singh and his colleagues who were in jail and agitated against the treatment meted out to them.
Like the Bahgat Singh hanging 82 years ago, the Jalianwala Bagh tragedy on April 13 will be recalled. Jalianwala Bagh is the place where General E.H. Dyer ordered the killing of peaceful protesters, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, including women and children. The shooting was not stopped until the last bullet was exhausted. Some 1500 people were killed. It is a matter of pride that Dyer was killed by martyr Udham Singh at London several years later.
Both events are etched on the minds of elderly people of the country. How to evoke the same sentiments among the younger generation is the problem. The government pays only lip sympathy to the pre-Partition icons. But were they to propagate even Bhagat Singh’s thoughts on Hindu-Muslim unity, the problem of communalism which is troubling India would be easy to solve.
The least the government can do is to remember the revolutionaries and their sacrifices. But, unfortunately, the government has neither organized any meeting nor seminar to remember Bhagat Singh or revolutionaries like him who contributed to the unity of the country. Bhagat Singh was only 23 when he went to the gallows fighting against the British rulers. He had no politics other than the politics of sacrificing one’s life and freeing India from bondage. The best way to keep their sacrifices alive is to commemorate the memory of such icons of yesteryears.