Today's Quote

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Atheist to the last

The martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev was a moving issue from the beginning. Netaji Subhas Bose has recorded his reactions in his book The Indian Struggle after he received that shocking news while in a train proceeding to Karachi congress, Anger and emotion swept through the country, Bose referred to his insistence on Gandhi ji that he should not sign the pact with the then Viceory, Lord Irwin, withdrawing the civil disobedience movement till the death sentence on Bhagat Singh and his colleagues was commuted. The pact was signed on 18 March 1931 only five days before the hanging. It should be recalled that Bhagat Singh and Batu Keshwar Datta were arrested after dropping the bomb in the Delhi Assembly on 4 April 1929. It was a grim decision, which was taken not suddenly at the spur of the moment but after a long debate. Dropping the bomb in the Assembly meant sure arrest and arrest meant death for Bhagat Singh who had already been named the accused in the Saunders murder case. The expected happened. Bhagat Singh and Batu Keshwar Datta were awarded life imprisonment for dropping bomb in the Assembly and the death sentence on Bhagat Singh was pronounced in the Lahore conspiracy case.
What was astounding was even in such condition Bhagat Singh did not forget the problems of communalism in the country and the complicated question of religion and politics. Whereas many staunch atheists became believers of God before death, Bhagat Singh wrote his last and perhaps his best article, ?why I am an Atheist?? on 6 October 1930 ie, hardly five months before his hanging. His last article was a unique comination of politics, theology and science, which referred even to Darwain?s Origin of species, which can educate many social scientists even today. This was written not in a cool library room but in a condemned cell of a jail.

Communalism and communism

Bhagat Singh believed in separating religion from politics and state. In his article referring to the Gadr movement, Bhagat Singh wrote: ?the martyrs of 1941-15 kept religion outside politics. Their conception was that religion was the private matter of individuals. Other should not interfere in that nor should it be injected into politics.? So the movement of the Gadr party remained united both in mind and heat where the Sikh took the lead in making sacrifices and the Hindu and Muslims did not lag behind. Today after, mixing religion with politics we get Khalistan in Canada in place of the Gadr party.
In the country secularists are defensive and communalist are aggressive. This is because only class struggle can resist communal riots which even the communists have abandoned long ago, except for a symbolic exercise before wage and bonus negotiations. There was a time when Congress, the party of the ruling bourgeoisie, had to talk of socialistic pattern of society but now even the Marxists are shy of mentioning socialism in their election manifesto and name their youth organization ?democratic?.
Bhagat Singh was very forthright in his views. Unlike the apologetic secularists Bhagat Singh was aggressive in accusing the exploitative system and declared: ?Producers and Laborers are robbed by the exploiter of the fruits of their labour and deprived of their elementary sights. Radical change, therefore, is needed and it is the duty of those who realize this to reorganize society on a socialist basis in accordance with the principle of Karl Marx?. Bhagat Singh dropped a bomb when the Delhi Assembly was discussing the Trade Dispute Bill to chain the working class in the British days. In these days of WTO many bills are waiting in Parliament to facilitate the ?exit policy? for the workers and to liquidate the public sector but there is no Bhagat Singh to thunder.

Scientific ideology

The revolutionaries of those days under the leadership of Bhagat Singh and chandra Shekhar Azad resolved to avenge the murder. The police officer, Mr. Saunders who had led the assault on Lala Lajpat Rai was shot dead on 17 December before his office itself.
What is striking is that even during these waves of events, Bhagat Singh?s pen did not rest. What is more, he pointed out in clear terms the danger of communal divide and peril of mixing religion with politics in his two famous articles after the communal riot in Lahore. One of the brightest sides of Bhagat Singh was the that he did not become a revolutionary because he was swayed by emoti9n as was expected at his age and in his era but because he was committed to some scientific ideology and with a rational thinking. This was evident in his speeches and writing. So Bhagat Singh did not remain a shaheed but became a Shaheed-a-Azam.


In an article written in May 1928 at the age of 21 under the heading ?Religion and our freedom struggle?, Bhagat Singh brilliantly analysed the views of Tolstoy dividing religion into three parts: ethics, theology and rituals.
He interpreted their implications in the contemporary political reality of that day which can be a guide to the political leaders even today. In that article Bhagat Singh stressed the need of communal harmony and feeling of communal harmony and feeling of brotherhood amongst communities concluding, ?the meaning of our full independence is not only to get out of the grip of the British but to create a condition where all communities would live like brothers and be free from mental slavery (to all orthodox and blind faith)?.
This is the theme, which Tagor enshrined, in his famous poem, ?where mind is without fear and head is held high, where the knowledge is free, where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in the dreary desert sand of dead habits.? However, the country is now going in the opposite direction practicing religious bigotry and under economic reforms deforming the society to get wealth quick.

Short life

Even otherwise, India?s Independence movement was never confined to wresting power. It was a struggle for emancipation ?to wipe every tear from every eye? as the pledge of Independence on 26 January 1930 spelt out. Though that pledge is now nearly forgotten or mortgaged with the World Bank to get new loans to make a few rich, the consensus that developed during the freedom struggle was clear. That consensus that developed during the freedom struggle was clear. That consensus was for secularism, socialism and self-reliance as opposed to communalism, capitalism and foreign dependence. Now we are crawling in a reptile era where greed is good and borrowing is best. To put the country on right track, a Bhagat singh is needed.
It was a short life of 24 years from 1907 to 1931 with the last two years in jail. In 1925 at the age of 18 Bhagat Singh founded Bharat Navjawan Sabha and in 1927 the Hindustan republican association to which he added the word ?socialist? the following year. In Indian politics that was the first use of the term ?socialist? in the name of any organization. In 1928 there was a nationwide call to boycott the Simon Commission, and all white Commission to decide the political fate of India. On 30 October 1928, Lala Lajpat rai was assaulted by the police while demonstrating against the simon Commission in Lahore in Lahore. He succumbed to his injuries on 13 November.


[The Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan had organised an essay competition on the above subject in 1923. It was for that competition that Bhagat Singh wrote this article. The General Secretary of Sahitya Sammelan, Shri Bhim Sen Vidyalankar (now expired) liked the article much and preserved it. Bhagat Singh got a prize of Rs. 50 for this article. Subsequently, it was published in Hindi Sandesh on February 28, 1933]

Monday, October 1, 2007

Hard Labour

Hard labour is hard, and made infinitely harder by the warder who stands over you and forces you to work beyond your endurance, beyond human endurance. Gandhi, like us, had plenty of hard labour, and both his comrades and mine, survived to tell our tales. He describes a particular day in Volksrust prison.
"The day was very hot, all the Indians set to work with great energy. The warder was rather short of temper. He shouted at the prisoners all the time to keep on working. The more he shouted, the more nervous the Indians became. I even saw some of them in tears. One, I noticed, had a swollen foot. I went on urging everyone to ignore the warder and carry on as best he could. I too, got exhausted. There were large blisters on my palms and the lymph was oozing out of them. I was praying to God all the time to save my honour so that I might not break down. The warder started rebuking me. He did so because I was resting. Just then I observed Mr. Jhinabhai Desai fainting away. I paused a little, not being allowed to leave the place of work. The warder went to the spot. I found that I too must go and I ran." (Indian Opinion, 09-01-1909).
They splashed water on the fainted Jhinabhai and revived him. Jhinabhai was taken to his cell by cab. That hot day repeated itself on Robben Island in the early sixties.
We, like Gandhi's Indians, had been working at a brisk pace for three hours one day, when fatigue set in and some of us stopped to stretch our bodies. The warder was on to us, swearing and shouting. Then he turned to Steven Tefu, old enough to be his grandfather, very erudite, highly educated, and shouted at him, "Get on boy!"
Tefu drew together his dignity and reprimanded the warder in high Dutch, thoroughly confusing him. The outcome for Tefu was better than that for Jhinabhai.
As was the experience of Gandhi, we were marched off to work in groups of 30. He writes,
"At seven, work starts. On the first day, we had to dig up the soil in a field near the main road for purposes of cultivation." (Indian Opinion, 29-5-1909).
They quarried stones and carried them on their heads. We worked on the lime quarries, and the sun shining on the whiteness blinded our eyes. There were times when Gandhi agonised and wondered whether he had done the right thing by exposing his compatriots to the pain and indignity, but his firm conviction came to his rescue.
"If to bear suffering is in itself a kind of happiness, there is no need to be worried by it. Seeing that our sole duty was to break free from our fetters by enduring every hardship rather than remaining bound for life, I felt light in the heart and tried to instill courage in the others."