It is this week (March 23,
1999), 68 years ago, that Sardar Bhagat Singh was hanged by
the British for treason. We remember the martyrdom of a patriot, who
continues to inspire bravery among India's youth.
--Translated from a Kannada Radio feature.
Bhagat Singh was born in a Sikh family of farmers in the village of Banga
of Layalpur district of Punjab (now in Pakistan) on September 27th of
1907. His family stood for patriotism, reform, and freedom of the country.
His grandfather Arjun Singh was drawn to Arya Samaj, a reformist
movement of Hinduism, and took keen interest in proceedings of the Indian
National Congress. Bhagat Singh's father Kishen Singh and uncle Ajit
Singh were members of Ghadr Party founded in the U.S. in early years of
this century to route British rule in India. Both were jailed for alleged
anti-British activities. Ajit Singh had 22 cases against him and was
forced to flee to Iran. Thereafter he went to Turkey, Austria, Germany and
finally to Brazil to escape Black Water (Kalapani) punishment for
his revolutionary activities in India.
The Jalianwala Bagh Massacre
Young Bhagat Singh was brought up in a politically charged state of Punjab
which was left with a seething memory of the Jalianwala massacre of more
than 400 innocent lives and thousands injured (1919). As a lad
of fourteen he went to this spot to collect soil from the park of
Jalianwala (bagh) in his lunch box, sanctified by the blood of
the innocent and kept it as a memento for life.
Bhagat Singh was studying at the National College founded by Lala
Lajpatrai, a great revolutionary leader and reformist. To avoid early
marriage, he ran away from home and, became a member of the youth
organization Noujawan Bharat Sabha which had memberships of all sects and
religions. He met Chandrashekhar Azad, B.K. Dutt and other
revolutionaries. They used to print handouts and newspapers in secret and
spread political awareness in India through Urdu, Punjabi and English.
These were all banned activities in India at the time, punishable with
The Simon Commission, Murder of Lala Lajpatrai and the Revenge
Anti-British feelings were spreading; Indians wanted some proper
representation in running the administration of their country to which
British reciprocated only on paper. Noticing restlessness was spreading,
the British Government appointed a commission under the leadership of Sir
John Simon in 1928, to report on political happenings. There was no single
Indian member in this commission, and all the political parties
decided to boycott the commission when it planned to visit major cities of
In Lahore, Lala Lajpatrai (picture) and Pandit Madan Mohan Malavia decided to
protest to the commission in open about their displeasure. It was a silent
protest march, yet the police chief Scott had banned meetings or
processions. Thousands joined, without giving room for any untoward
incident. Even then, Scott beat Lala Lajpatrai severely with a lathi
(bamboo stick) on the head several times. Finally the leader
succumbed to the injuries.
Bhagat Singh who was an eye witness to the morbid scene vowed to take
revenge and with the help of Azad, Rajguru and Sukhadev plotted to kill
Scott. Unfortunately he killed Mr. Sanders, a junior officer, in a
case of mistaken identity. He had to flee from Lahore to escape death
Bomb in the Assembly
Instead of finding the root cause for discontent of Indians, the British
government took to more repressive measures. Under the Defense of India
Act, it gave more power to the police to arrest persons to stop
processions with suspicious movements and actions. The act brought in the
council was defeated by one vote. Even then it was to be passed in the
form of an ordinance in the "interest of the public." No doubt
the British were keen to arrest all leaders who opposed its arbitrary
actions, and Bhagat Singh who was in hiding all this while, volunteered to
throw a bomb in the central assembly where the meeting to pass the
ordinance was being held. It was a carefully laid out plot, not to cause
death or injury but to draw the attention of the government, that the
modes of its suppression could no more be tolerated. It was agreed that
Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt would court arrest after throwing the
It was a forgone conclusion in 1929 April 8th at Delhi Central
Assembly. Singh and Dutt threw handouts, and bombed in the corridor not to
cause injury and courted arrest after shouting slogans Inquilab
Zindabad (Long Live, Revolution!)
Meanwhile the killers of Sanders were identified by the treachery of
Bhagat Singh's friends who became "Approvers." Bhagat
Singh thought the court would be a proper venue to get publicity for the
cause of freedom, and did not want to disown the crime. But he gave a
fiery statement giving reasons for killing which was symbolic of freedom
struggle. He wanted to be shot like a soldier, and not die at the gallows.
But, his plea was rejected, and he was hanged on the 23rd of March 1931.
He was 24.
Bhagat Singh became a legendary hero for the masses. Innumerable songs
were composed about him, and the youth throughout the country made him
their ideal. He became a symbol of bravery and a goal to free India.