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
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 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.
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.
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.
grandfather Arjun Singh in Urdu on July 27, 1919. on a post card
Bhagat Singh’s grandfather Arjun Singh
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.
(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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
Address — To, Mr Jai Deo Prasad Gupta, c/o The provincial
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
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
Address — Mr Jai Deo Prasad Gupta c/o S. Kishan Singh
Bradlaugh Hall, Lahore.