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The supreme martyrs

Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev are a source of inspiration for one generation after another. Bhagat Singh had said: ‘Individuals can be crushed, but not the ideas, which have a longer life than individuals.’ Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were crushed as individuals by the British rulers, but their ideas continue to spread fragrance.

The supreme martyrs

BRAVE YOUNG MEN: The three comrades went to the gallows together on March 23, 1931. Tribune photo



Chaman Lal

Honorary Adviser to Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, New Delhi

90th death anniversary of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru & Sukhdev

BHAGAT Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev are regarded as supreme martyrs of the Indian freedom struggle. On the 90th anniversary of the trio’s martyrdom, Bhagat Singh continues to be in the spotlight, even as Rajguru and Sukhdev find less mention.

Sukhdev was born on May 15, 1907, as per family records and on February 18, 1907, as per his school certificate mentioned date, in Naughara family house in a now crowded area of Ludhiana, although the family was living in Lyallpur where Bhagat Singh’s family also lived. Since Sukhdev’s father died early, he was brought up by his uncle Achint Ram Thapar, a nationalist in his own right of Lyallpur. Two biographies of Sukhdev are authentic, written by his brothers Jaidev Thapar and Mathura Das Thapar. Jaidev’s work is not available, while Mathura Das’ Mere Bhai Sukhdev has got many reprints and continues to be in circulation.

Mathura Das Thapar’s biography of his brother is well documented and carries a few writings of Sukhdev as well. A copy of the proceedings of the Lahore conspiracy trial with Sukhdev’s notes on the sidelines is part of the National Archives of India, gifted by Sukhdev’s family. Sukhdev, along with Bejoy Kumar Sinha and Bhagwati Charan Vohra, was an ideological comrade of Bhagat Singh. Mathura Das Thapar, in his memoirs of Sukhdev, had mentioned the titles of books which both Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev had read and discussed for hours, sometimes the whole night.

In their political organisation— Hindustan Socialist Republican Association Army (HSRA), while Bhagat Singh was the coordinator for all states, Sukhdev was the convenor of Punjab state. Both Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev were college mates at National College, Lahore. Sukhdev’s name figures nowhere in the Saunders assassination case, known as the second Lahore conspiracy case, the first one being the Ghadar Party case in which Kartar Singh Sarabha and six others were executed.

Sukhdev, being trapped in the usual police lies-based investigation of always saying that the other accused have already told the whole story, had made a statement, but still was being careful by not mentioning the party shelters. He was neither part of the assassination, in which Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Jai Gopal had taken part and Chandrashekhar Azad had overseen the whole operation. Yet, he owned every part of the assassination plan and preferred to die with his comrades rather than save his own life. The farcical part of the trial and ‘colonial justice’ was the death sentence for Sukhdev, which could not have been given in any judicial system, as AG Noorani underlined in his classic book The Trial of Bhagat Singh.

There are two letters written by Bhagat Singh to Sukhdev. Both have been published, but Sukhdev’s letters to Bhagat Singh have not been found. Both letters deal with the philosophical themes of love and suicide. While Sukhdev’s ideas or perception of love was somewhat traditional and conservative, Bhagat Singh was more liberal and realist in his perception about love. He tells Sukhdev in his letter that love is a feeling which can give great strength to the revolutionaries, by giving an example of Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini: “In the context of discussing someone’s character, one thing that is worth thinking about is if love has ever proved to be helpful to any person. Let me answer this today — yes, it did — for Mazzini. You must surely have read that he was not able to endure the first unsuccessful rebellion, the grief of a heart-wrenching failure, and the memory of martyred comrades. He could have either gone mad or committed suicide, but with a letter from his beloved, he became not only as strong as the others, but stronger than everybody else” (Letter to Sukhdev, April 5, 1929).

Both friends had changed their opinion in jail. Sukhdev, who despised the idea of suicide outside, not tolerating the sufferings of jail, became a votary of suicide in prison, while Bhagat Singh outside jail was more sympathetic to a man who committed suicide due to sufferings in life. In a September 1930 letter, a few days before the death sentence to all three was announced, Bhagat Singh rebuked Sukhdev inside the jail itself on thinking about suicide: “Those of us who are certain to get the death sentence should wait patiently for the day when this sentence would be pronounced, after which they will be hanged. Even that death will be beautiful, but to commit suicide, to put an end to one’s life, to escape some suffering — that is cowardice. I wish to tell you that it is hardship that makes a person complete.”

Rajguru, born on August 24, 1908, at Khed village, now renamed as Rajguru Nagar near Pune, was a jolly fellow and wanted to be ahead of Bhagat Singh in everything. He was angry at not being sent to Central Assembly for throwing the bomb. He walked from his village to Benares where he got admission in a Sanskrit school and joined the HRA. Bhagat Singh was supposed to shoot Scott in front of SSP office in Lahore, while Jai Gopal was to give a signal of the SSP coming out of the office. While Jai Gopal gave the signal mistaking Saunders for Scott, who was the Deputy SP, Rajguru impulsively shot Saunders, while Bhagat Singh could recognise that it was not Scott, and shouted to Chandrashekhar Azad that the person was not Scott. But before he could even complete the sentence, Rajguru had shot Saunders, which compelled Bhagat Singh to shoot too. At the gallows also, it was Rajguru who first got the rope put around his neck to be hanged.

With such tales of bravery, the three martyrs are a source of inspiration for one generation after another. Bhagat Singh had said: “Individuals can be crushed, but not the ideas, which have a longer life than individuals.” Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were crushed as individuals by the British rulers, but their ideas continue to spread fragrance.


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