Letters of a martyr

In his birth centenary year, there is a revival of interest in Bhagat Singh, leading to new revelations and perspectives on his activities. Chaman Lal presents another facet of the revolutionary as revealed by his letters to family members and friends

On march 23, 2007, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev completed 76 years of martyrdom. With effect from September 28, 2006, birth centenary programmes of Bhagat Singh started nationally. This happened more at the non-government level as compared to the government level. Memorial programmes on Bhagat Singh have gained momentum since, there have been a lot of publications brought out in this period in Hindi, Punjabi, English and many other Indian languages, which continues uninterrupted till day.

A rare historical photograph of students and staff of National College, Lahore, which was started by Lala Lajpat Rai for education of students participating in the non-cooperation movement. Shaheed Bhagat Singh can be seen standing fourth from the right.
A rare historical photograph of students and staff of National College, Lahore, which was started by Lala Lajpat Rai for education of students participating in the non-cooperation movement. Shaheed Bhagat Singh can be seen standing fourth from the right.

A proposal to set up a Bhagat Singh Chair at JNU, New Delhi, has been accepted by the national programme implementation committee recently. Mooted by this author, this proposal was endorsed by Prof. Bipan Chandra, Prof. Prabhat Patnaik and Prof. G.S. Bhalla. It was supported by many eminent scholars and political leaders like Prakash Karat, A.B. Bardhan and Shashi Bhushan.

In these ongoing programmes on Bhagat Singh all over the country, I was invited to deliver lectures on his thought and role in freedom movement. I delivered these lectures at Arrah, Patna, (Bihar), Indore (MP), Rohtak (Haryana), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Mumbai, Banaras and Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu) during September 2006 to February 2007. Department of political science, Mumbai University, was perhaps the first department in the country to hold two days national seminar on Bhagat Singh last month. On March 23, this year, there were hundreds of programmes all over the country, including some official ones. Many leftist organisations took out huge demonstrations and rallies to oppose the neo-liberal anti-people policies of the government, to mark this day. Leftist organisations of all hues are trying to resurrect Bhagat Singh as the most strong anti-imperialist resistance symbol in the present context.

It is clear that in the 150th year anniversary of the First War of Independence in 1857 and in the birth centenary year of Bhagat Singh, an emotion of patriotism is emerging afresh, in the wake of US neo-imperialism becoming more aggressive and dangerous than old British imperialism. Reliving the nationalistic tradition in the whole country, a renaissance is taking place in the country, in which the image of Bhagat Singh is emerging as supreme ideological symbol of resistance.

At the international level too, struggling people of the world against neo imperialism are looking to Bhagat Singh as symbol of resistance alongwith Che Guvera. This year, a UK-based publisher is bringing out collection of Bhagat Singh’s writings in English.

Malwinderjit Singh Waraich with Bhagat Singh’s mother at Khatkarkalan
Malwinderjit Singh Waraich with Bhagat Singh’s mother at Khatkarkalan.

Bhagat Singh was always considered significant at national and international level, but this did not come into focus. The rare documents acquired by this author in this period, throw light on his significance. One of these documents is Periyar’s editorial in his Tamil weekly Kudi Arasu on March 22-29, 1931 issue, immediately after Bhagat Singh and others’ execution. This was translated in English and published in Modern Rationalist in November 2006 by followers of Periyar at my request, after more than 75 years of its first publication. It was E V Ramasami Naikar Periyar, who got Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh, translated in Tamil, as early as in 1934 by Comrade P Jeevanandan and published it in the form of a booklet. This booklet continues to be popular in Tamil Nadu, even today, after so many editions have come out. This was perhaps first ever translation of this historic document in any Indian or other language, much earlier than even the Punjabi translation. There were many creative writings in Tamil, after the execution of Bhagat Singh, which were proscribed by British authorities in those days.

Internationally also, the reports of execution of Bhagat Singh and disturbances in the country after that, were published in pro-Communist Daily Worker from New York in USA. It is almost strange to know that the news of Bhagat Singh’s execution was published in The Tribune of Lahore and Daily Worker of New York on the same day, March 25, 1931, in the age of slow communication channels as compared to today. Even The Tribune from Lahore could not publish this report on March 24, as the news of execution on March 23, at 7 pm remained suppressed in media in Lahore itself, where the executions took place. Daily Worker again carried a report on Kanpur riots on March 27, 1931, which spread after these executions.

Five unpublished letters of Bhagat Singh have been found out in this period. Copies of four letters have been acquired from Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (Teen Murti), New Delhi. The fifth letter has been recovered from the exhibits of Lahore Conspiracy case. The copies of all these letters were gifted to this author by Malwinderjit Singh Waraich, a dedicated writer and activist about revolutionary movements in India for national freedom. Three of these letters are in English, one in Punjabi and another in Urdu.

From these documents, one can understand the ideological perspective of Bhagat Singh and the significance of his contribution to India’s freedom struggle.

Letter to grandfather Arjun Singh in Urdu on July 27, 1919. on a post card


Bhagat Singh’s grandfather Arjun Singh
Bhagat Singh’s grandfather Arjun Singh

Respected dadaji, namaste

I state humbly that I am well and wish your well being from Shri Narayan Ji. The state of affairs here is that our six monthly exams are over, which started in July. Many boys failed in maths. So the maths exam will be held again on August 9. Everything else is fine. When are you coming? Tell bhayiaji (father) that I have cleared all papers in six monthly examinations. Namaste to mataji (mother) and chachi (aunt). Kultar Singh (younger brother) had fever on July 24 and 25. Now he is OK. Do not worry about anything.

Yours obediently
Bhagat Singh

(Translated from the original by Chaman Lal)

This is the second letter of Bhagat Singh to his grandfather, which is now available. The first available letter of Bhagat Singh is also written to his grandfather in Urdu only. Bhagat Singh’s handwriting is available in three languages — Urdu, Punjabi and English. He was a prolific writer in Hindi, too.

Letter to aunt Hukam Kaur, widow of uncle Swarn Singh, in Punjabi on October 24,1921


My dear chach iji, namaste

I had gone to attend a rally to Lyallpur. I wanted to come to the village, but bapuji (father) did not allow. So I could not come to the village. Please forgive me if I did anything wrong. Portrait of chachaji (uncle Swarn Singh) is ready. I wanted to bring it along but it was not complete.Kindly reply early. My reverence to elder aunt. My reverence to mother. Namaste to Kulbir and Kultar (younger brothers).

Your son
Bhagat Singh

(Translated from the original by Chaman Lal)

This letter was written by Bhagat Singh at the age of 14 to his younger aunt in Punjabi. Bhagat Singh had learnt Punjabi language in 1921 by his own efforts, inspired by Nankana Sahib Morcha, the volunteers of which passed through his village and Bhagat Singh used to serve food (langar) to them. He was not taught Punjabi in school, where he had a good command over Urdu, which was the medium of instruction those days.

A letter to Lahore authorities for release of belongings. Contents of the letter are self-explanatory. The letter is typed on Bhagat Singh’s father S. Kishan Singh’s letterhead, who was an insurance agent in Lahore.


I was arrested on May 29, 1927, under Section 302, IPC, and was detained in the police custody for five weeks. I was released on bail on July 4, 1927. Since then I have never been called by the police or any court to stand my trial under the said section (written in hand) and so I presume that you have completed your investigation and found nothing against me and (written in hand) have practically withdrawn the case. Under the circumstances I request you to kindly return all the things that were taken from my body at the time of my arrest and to inform me when and where to see you for the said purpose.

 Sd/ Sadiq Ali Shah S.I.
 D/ 2-5-29 (written in hand)
Read out, admitted in evidence and added to Special Tribunal Lahore conspiracy Case File.
J. Coldstream
Special Tribunal

This letter was written to a close personal friend by Bhagat Singh on a post card in English. It has the stamp of Lahore post office of February 24, 1930. This letter is also self-explanatory.

Very urgent

No. 103
Central Jail
condemned cell, Lahore

My Dear Jai Deo!

I hope you would have heard of our abandoning the fast after 16 days, and you can guess how greatly do we feel the necessity of your help at this stage. We received a few oranges yesterday but no interview was held. Our case has been adjourned for a fortnight. Therefore, kindly arrange to send a tin of ‘Craven Cigarettes — A’ and a tin of ghee immediately. And a few oranges along with a few rasgullas will also be welcomed. Mr Dutta is facing hard times without cigarettes. Now you can understand the urgent nature of our needs.

Thanking you in advance,
yours sincerely
Bhagat Singh
Address — To, Mr Jai Deo Prasad Gupta, c/o The provincial Congress committee

Bradlaugh Hall, Lahore

This letter has also been written to Jaidev Gupta on May 26, 1930, in English. The stamp of Lahore post office is of May 28, 1930, on the post card. This letter also needs no explanation.

Dear brother Jai Deo,

Today again I am writing this letter to give you some trouble which I hope you will not mind. Please see if you can arrange to send one fleet-foot pair of shoes for me. I think no. 9-10 will do. My chapli is too uncomfortable. Also please try to send it on Friday or Saturday through Kulbir when he will be coming for an interview.

Really it is very sad that I have not so far been allowed any interview with you. Had this impasse in our trial not occurred, I will have repeatedly reminded the authorities to sanction your interview. Anyhow by the time this question is settled, I will again try to get the interview sanctioned. Well I hope you will send the shoes without fail and without delay. These days I have got only one book with me — a very dry one. Please see if you can send a couple of recent interesting novels. Please remember me to all friends.

Yours sincerely
Bhagat Singh
Address — Mr Jai Deo Prasad Gupta c/o S. Kishan Singh
Bradlaugh Hall, Lahore.