Bhagat Singh was born on September 28, 1907 in the village of Banga ( in present day Pakistan), Punjab, in British Colonial India. At the time of his birth, his father Kishan Singh; and his uncles Ajit and Swaran Singh were in jail for demonstrations against the Colonization Bill implemented in 1906. Brought up in a Sikh family deeply involved in the Indian nationalistic groups, Bhagat Singh was politically aware and took up the nations cause at a very young age. His fearlessness and dedication; along with his oratory and writing skills; catapulted him to instant fame at an early age. His revolutionary ideas and critical thinking inspired many and he went on to become a youth icon, instilling fresh energy in the Indian Independence movement. Bhagat Singh is most famous for his revolutionary activities against British injustices including the assassination of J.P. Saunders and the bombing of the Central Legislative Assembly. He willingly chose death to popularize revolutionary activities against the British and the day of his death is observed as Martyr’s Day in India. Know more about the contribution of Shaheed (Martyred) Bhagat Singh to the independence movement through his 10 major achievements.
#1 HE DEDICATED HIMSELF TO THE CAUSE OF INDIA’S INDEPENDENCE IN HIS TEENAGE
Bhagat Singh belonged to a Sikh family who were politically active in the Indian Independence movement. Unlike many Sikhs of his age, Singh did not attend the Khalsa High School in Lahore because his grandfather did not approve of the school officials’ loyalty to the British government. His family supported the Ghadar Movement, with an agenda to overthrow British rule in India. This politically aware environment at home helped incite a sense of patriotism in Bhagat Singh from an early age. During his teenage, exposure to barbaric incidents like Jallianwala Bagh Masacre (1919) and homicide of unarmed Akalis at the Nankana Sahib (1921) further shaped his strong patriotic outlook. Initially, he believed in the Gandhian ideology to attain Swaraj and dedicatedly supported the Indian National Congress. However Mahatma Gandhi’s calling off the Non-Cooperation Movement, following the Chauri Chaura Incident (1922), left him disillusioned with Gandhi’s non-violent principles. Thereafter, Bhagat Singh joined the Young Revolutionary Movement, deciding to carry out an armed revolution against the ruling British, as opposed to the generally peaceful Civil Disobedience Movement spearheaded by Gandhi. At a mere age of 16, he was completely and whole-heartedly dedicated to the cause of national liberation and service of the country.
#2 HE WAS FAMOUS AS AN IMPECCABLE ORATOR AND WRITER
In 1923, Bhagat Singh joined the National College in Lahore, established by Lala Lajpat Rai; a freedom fighter, and a prominent political leader in the Indian Independence movement. It was an alternative to the institutions run by the British Government, with focus on opposing and boycotting the British Colonialists. The National College nurtured the young Bhagat Singh and helped him hone his skills as a speaker and writer. In 1923, he won an essay competition organized by the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, writing on the problems in the Punjab region. In 1924, he worked with Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi for Pratap, a revolutionary weekly. In this role, he penned down revolutionary articles and distributed pamphlets outlining principles of a violent uprising, aimed at overthrowing the Britishers. Here, Singh worked under the alias, Balwant and met other fellow revolutionaries with whom he would share a close camaraderie. Apart from this, Singh was also a member of the College Dramatics Society and seemed to have gained quick prominence because of his impeccable oratory and writing skills. Not only had he become famous among the students and teachers of his own college but also in other peripheral colleges. Lahore, as a hub of culture, multi-ethnic and cross-section of ideologies, provided Shaheed Bhagat Singh a prominent platform for his political work and struggle for freedom.
#3 HE BECAME A LEADER OF HINDUSTAN REPUBLICAN ASSOCIATION
In 1924, Bhagat Singh joined Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), a radical group, which was born after Mahatma Gandhi declared an immediate stop the Non-Cooperation Movement. It was headed by Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqulla Khan and included prominent leaders such as Chandrashekhar Azad, Sukhdev Thapar and Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee. In the period of 1924 – 25, the HRA gained popularity in India with an influx of new members including Bhagat Singh. It was as a member of the HRA that Bhagat Singh began to take armed revolution seriously and went from village to village recruiting people. The organisation conducted many robberies and raids in an attempt to raise funds to acquire arms and ammunition, the most famous being the Kakori Train Robbery, on August 9, 1925. The incident led to arrest of several HRA members and their trials. The outcome was that four leaders: Ashfaqullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, Roshan Singh and Rajendra Lahiri were hanged in December 1927. Moreover, a further 16 HRA members were imprisoned for long terms. In these challenging times the sole absconders of the Kakori incident, Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad, took up the reigns of the party and emerged as the leaders of the Hindustan Republican Association.
#4 HE FOUNDED NAUJAWAN BHARAT IN 1926
Bhagat Singh had been inspired by to Giuseppe Mazzini’s Young Italy Movement since his college years at National College. This led him to set up the Naujawan Bharat Sabha in March 1926, an association for revolutionaries to fight against the British colonialism and injustice. The Naujawan Bharat Sabha sought to foment revolution against the British Raj by gathering together worker and peasant youths. It comprised members from the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities. Special attention was taken to only include members who kept the interests of the country above those of their respective communities. The organization organized periodic protests, lectures and public meetings espousing revolutionary ideas of freedom, equality and economic emancipation.
#5 HE SERVED AS AN ICON FOR REVOLUTIONARY YOUTHS ACROSS INDIA
The intense patriotism of Bhagat Singh coupled with cultivated idealism, made him an ideal icon for the youth of his generation. A glimpse of his dedication to the nation and maturity, which inspired millions can be estimated through some excerpts from his essay “Why am I an Atheist”, written in the days just before his execution. Through his organization Bhagat Singh instilled many students with a revolutionary spirit, which was undaunted by state repression, to an unprecedented degree. Its activities led to the founding of youth leagues and student unions in several towns throughout India. Considering his influence on the youth, Bhagat Singh became a person of interest for the British Government which arrested him in May 1927 for a few days. In 1929 after his final arrest and trial on the charges of murdering Assistant Superintendent JP Saunders, Bhagat Singh was asked to apologize for his actions (of planning and killing Saunders) so that his death sentence could be curtailed. He refused vehemently because he believed he had done no wrong and justice had been served to the British for the uncalled assassination of Lala Lajpat Rai.
#6 HE BOOSTED REVOLUTIONARY MORALE WITH THE ASSASSINATION OF J.P. SAUNDERS
On October 30, 1928, Lala Lajpat Rai, a leading Indian revolutionary, led an all-parties procession protesting against the arrival of the Simon Commission. In an attempt to disperse the large crowd, the police resorted to a brutal Lathi Charge. The confrontation left Lala Lajpat Rai with severe wounds and he succumbed to his injuries on November 17, 1928. Bhagat Singh and his associates in the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) decided on taking revenge on the British. James A. Scott, the Superintendent of Police, had ordered the Lathi Charge while J.P. Saunders, an assistant Superintendent of police, was identified as connected with the beating of Lalaji. On December 17, 1928, things did not go according to plan and the primary target James A. Scott could not be assassinated. However, Bhagat Singh along with Shivaram Rajguru shot and killed assistant superintendent of police John Saunders. They were supported in this act by their compatriot Sukhdev Thapar while Chandrashekhar Azad directed the whole action and worked as a rear guard. Following the assassination, the three revolutionaries fled from the scene in a meticulously planned escape. The success of the Saunders murder brought prestige to the revolutionaries and created much sensation among the students.
#7 BHAGAT SINGH VOLUNTARILY GOT ARRESTED TO POPULARIZE THE INDIAN REVOLUTION
To further spur the revolutionary spirit in India, Bhagat Singh planned another effrontery against British rule. The government planned to hasten the introduction of the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill, both of which had been drafted in an attempt to counter the effects of revolutionary activities and trade unionism. At this time, Bhagat Singh planned to explode a bomb inside the Central Legislative Assembly. On 8th April, 1929, Bhagat Singh along with Batukeswar Dutt entered the Council Chamber in the Assembly in Delhi undetected by the police and threw two bombs at the empty treasury benches, being careful to ensure that there were no casualties in order to highlight the propagandist nature of their action. As the bombs exploded and covered the room with dense smoke, the two revolutionaries with loaded guns had enough time to flee. However, instead they courted arrest shouting the slogan “Inqualab Zindabad” (Long Live the Revolution). Coined by freedom fighter and Congress leader Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Inqualab Zindabad was the official slogan of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. It was popularized by Bhagat Singh in his speeches and became one of the rallying cries of the Indian Independence movement. In Indian political novels chronicling the independence movement, a pro-independence sentiment is often characterized by characters shouting this slogan.
#8 HIS HUNGER STRIKE IN JAIL STIRRED NATIONWIDE PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR HIS CAUSE
As the Indian National Congress and many groups criticized the methods of the HSRA, a jailed Bhagat Singh was reported to be elated, and referred to the subsequent legal proceedings as a stage to publicize their cause. In the 1st week of June, the trials began, following a preliminary hearing in May. On June 12, both men were sentenced to life imprisonment for citing malicious and unlawful intent of the explosions. On the other hand, Lahore bomb factory was discovered by the police, leading to the arrest of other members of Hindustan Republican Socialist Association. Not long after this, some of the conspirators became informants and the police were able to connect the three strands of the Saunders murder, Assembly bombing and bomb manufacture. Singh was re-arrested for murdering Saunders and his life sentence in the Assembly Bomb Case was deferred until a stern update in the Saunders Case. Meanwhile, Singh and his fellow inmates declared an indefinite hunger strike in protest of the prejudiced difference in treatment of the European versus Indian prisoners and demanded to be recognized as equals. They demanded equality in food standards, clothing, toiletries, and other hygienic necessities; as well as access to books and a daily newspaper. The hunger strike vastly inspired a rise in public support for Singh and his colleagues. The government had to apply Section 144 of the criminal code in an attempt to limit gatherings. Since the activities of the hunger strikers had gained popularity and attention amongst the people nationwide, the government decided to advance the start of the Saunders murder trial, which was henceforth called the Lahore Conspiracy Case. This hunger strike lasted 63 days and ended with the British finally accepting defeat and succumbing to his wishes.
#9 THE DAY OF HIS DEATH IS OBSERVED AS MARTYR’S DAY IN INDIA
Bhagat Singh, Sukh Dev and Raj Guru were subsequently sentenced to death in the Lahore Conspiracy Case on October 7, 1930. They were to be hanged on 24 March, 1931. However, due to widespread protest against the sentence across India, the government moved the schedule of the killings by 11 hours. It is said that the trio proceeded quite cheerfully towards the gallows while chanting their favorite slogans like “Inquilab Zindabad” and “Down with British Imperialism”. While mounting the scaffold along with his two friends, Bhagat Singh addressed the European Deputy Commissioner who was present to witness the executions. Singh said with a smile on his face “Well Mr. Magistrate, you are fortunate to be able to-day to see how Indian revolutionaries can embrace death with pleasure for the sake of their supreme ideal”. Eventually, Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev were hanged in the Lahore Jail, on 23 March 1931, at 7:30 PM. Thereafter, the jail authorities secretly cremated the three men under cover of darkness, at Hussainiwala on the banks of Sutlej River. Bhagat Singh’s death was grieved throughout India and his supporters, who had been protesting against the hanging, immediately declared him as a Shaheed or Martyr. 23rd March is observed as Martyr’s Day or Shaheed Diwas in India, to pay tribute and remember the extraordinary sacrifices of the revolutionaries. At a mere age of 23, giving up his life for the freedom, glory, welfare and progress of the nation is by far the greatest achievement of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
#10 HE REMAINS A HUGELY POPULAR FIGURE IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA
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. He remains a crucial figure in the history of India and continues to inspire the youth of contemporary India. Singh has been the subject of numerous books, plays and films. In 1968, a postage stamp was issued in India commemorating the 61st birth anniversary of Singh. On the 50th anniversary of his death, Shaheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh Museum was opened at his ancestral village, Khatkar Kalan. Several popular Bollywood films have been made capturing the life and times of Bhagat Singh. During the centenary of his birth, a group of intellectuals set up an institution named Bhagat Singh Sansthan to commemorate him and his ideals. On 15 August 2008, an 18-foot tall bronze statue of Singh was installed in the Parliament of India, next to the statues of prominent Indian leaders Indira Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose. In addition, he was voted the “Greatest Indian” in a poll by the Indian magazine India Today in 2008, ahead of Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi. This gives an idea of his popularity among contemporary Indian people.