The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

The spark of freedom.

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The birth centenary of Bhagat Singh, legendary freedom fighter against the British colonial rule in undivided India, was celebrated on September 28th. Born in Khatkar Kalan village in the Lyallpur district, Bhagat Singh maintained revolutionary ideals even as a child. He carried around a banner denouncing the British Raj – an activity for which he was admonished and, later, beaten several times by colonial soldiers. It was the Jalianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, in which the British Indian Army, under the orders of Brigadier Dyer, opened fire on unarmed civilians and an estimated 379 men, women and children lost their lives, which really set his soul on fire and led him down the road to open rebellion. Bhagat Singh’s most inspiring feat was not that he was an active freedom activist even in adolescence; it was not that he conducted a 63-day hunger strike for the equal treatment of British and Indian prisoners or that he and his comrades swallowed red chillies just so that their throats were too swollen for any attempted force-feeding; it was that Bhagat Singh had done all this and secured his legacy – all by the age of 23.

His disillusionment with the mainstream parties resulted in Bhagat’s study of other – more potent – alternatives to fight the British Raj. It was this study that led him to Marxism-Leninism and, subsequently, to founding the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) – an organisation that continues to inspire the leftist youth in the Subcontinent even today. The HSRA was known for its militant opposition to the British Raj and staunch opposition to Mahatma Gandhi’s theory of non-violence. Bhagat Singh strongly argued that the tyranny of the mighty cannot be destroyed without resorting to violent means. However, he took great pains to avoid inflicting any harm on civilians. Lala Lajpat Rai, a Hindu nationalist and freedom fighter, was severely injured by a baton-charge ordered by Superintendent J. A. Scott against peaceful protestors in Lahore. Lala Lajpat Rai died a week later from his wounds and this further angered the members of the HSRA, especially Bhagat Singh, who were present at the protest. It was due to this incident that the HRSA planned to kill Scott but, unintentionally, killed Assistant Superintendent J. P. Saunders instead. The most audacious venture, taken on by HRSA, was one in which Bhagat Singh and his comrade Batukeshwar Dutt threw bombs into an unoccupied section of the Punjab Assembly. Bhagat Singh’s famous quote associated with this act was: “It takes a loud noise to get the deaf to hear.”

Bhagat Singh lived in a time in which the Congress, along with many other political parties, was bending to colonial pressure. Even the Communist Party of India presented itself as little more than the left-wing of the Congress. It was in this age of compliance that an intense need for people like Bhagat Singh was felt. Regardless of whether one agrees with his methods or not, it must be acknowledged that Bhagat Singh was a force to be reckoned with – a force that affected many lives, stood up for the weak and defenceless and, in doing so, shaped many events that led to undivided India’s freedom. Although Bhagat Singh’s practice was mired in its over-dependence on small-group militancy and its reluctance to rely on mass support, it can nevertheless teach us many lessons, the most important of which is that Bhagat Singh’s path is still the road to take.

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