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Bhagat Singh, martyr and thinker

That a young boy should be so deeply concerned about the plight of untouchables is remarkable

Bhagat Singh, martyr and thinker


KL Johar

MARCH 23 is observed as ‘Martyrdom Day’ in the memory of innumerable patriots who made the supreme sacrifice during the course of the freedom movement. It was on this day that Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev kissed the gallows in Central Jail, Lahore. Generations to come will recall their sacrifice and take pride in the fact that martyrs such as these lived and died for the country. Leaders of all hues garland the statues of the martyrs and shower praises on them, but, unfortunately, nobody evaluates the objectives for such sacrifices.

There is no doubt that Bhagat Singh shot into the limelight after he and his comrades avenged the gruesome lathi blows hurled on Lala Lajpat Rai, who led a procession at Lahore against the arrival of the Simon Commission. Also, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw two bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly on April 8, 1929, causing commotion in the placid waters of British governance. On the hanging on March 23, 1931, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, who wrote about the history of the Congress, remarked, “It is no exaggeration to say that at that moment, Bhagat Singh’s name was as widely known all over India and was as popular as Gandhi’s.”

However, a few attributes of Bhagat Singh have gone unnoticed. One of these is his concern about untouchability in the then social order. Soon after the annual Congress session held at Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, in 1923, Bhagat Singh wrote an article, ‘The Problem of Untouchability’. It was first printed in Punjabi journal ‘Kirti’, published from Amritsar.

He observed that “in a country of 30 crore persons, 24 crore believe that they will lose their religious purity by a mere touch of 6 crore untouchables. Gods will be anguished by their entry into the temples and the wells will become impure if untouchables start drawing water out of them.”

Bhagat Singh continued, “Vedas are beyond the reach of untouchables. They are not allowed to wear sacred thread round their neck so dear to the Brahmins.”

The great hero commented, “Pt Madan Mohan Malviya, a noted leader of the Congress party, will be garlanded by the untouchables but will not become pure till he bathes along with his clothes.” He gave a clarion call to the Harijans to rise out of their deep slumber, unite and fight for their rights. That a boy at the age of 16 or 17 should be so deeply concerned about the plight of untouchables is remarkable.

Secondly, Bhagat Singh wrote an essay entitled ‘The Problem of Punjab’s Language and Script’for a competition in 1923. In this essay, he pointed out that it’s only a rich language which ensures rich literature. It is only such language that brings about a revolutionary spirit. He wrote, “The French Revolution would have been impossible without the literature of Rousseau and Voltaire. Had Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky not invested years of their lives in the creation of a new literature, the Russian Revolution would not have taken place.”

Another characteristic of Bhagat Singh was his intense desire for sacrifice. Two attempts to rescue him from the gallows were foiled by him, as his thesis was to face a prolonged trial in court and publicise his point of view in order to create awakening among the youth of the country. This is what he did between April 1929 and March 1931.

I thought it appropriate to bring out this part of his thought process as we get set to observe ‘Martyrdom Day’, and particularly when untouchability and the problem of language continue to linger on in our country of deep social and economic disparities.

— The writer is former V-C, Guru Jambheshwar University of Science & Technology, Hisar

#Lahore #Pakistan


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