Recalling Bhagat Singh

As an initial conversation with the Unrepentant Marxist Louis Proyect regarding the Indian revolutionaries, I produce in full a letter written by Bhagat Singh to his father Sardar Kishan Singh, who in the eve of judgment submitted a petition to the trial judges for permission to produce a defense witness to save his son.

I have typed it out from a chapter written by Bhagat Singh’s friend and comrade Bejoy Kumar Sinha. For reproducing this work, I am thankful to the Delhi-based People’s Publishing House for the book “India’s Freedom Struggle: Several Streams”, edited by Sarkar, Bardhan, & Balaram, 1986; and to my dear father who introduced me to this work of eternal significance.

The letter is being published online for the first time to commemorate March 23, 1931– the date that saw Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom. I am sure readers will go beyond the sentiments to view a glimpse of India’s freedom struggle, and yet understand that the deep seated well meaning sentiments do affect revolutionary goals negatively at many times. The line between professed selfish love and practiced social goals need to be one of the bold revolutionary nature, sans which it becomes quite easy to tow the line of individualistic aspirations and solely personal freedoms.

There are too many distractions in the world today, from Ayn Rand to God Blessed Flags; from salary hikes to Friday parties; from getting an Oprah ticket to being ticketed for drunk driving; from life on the celebrity fast lanes to life on edge of thrilling video games; and it’s quite easy to fall prey to the “good family”, or “happy couple” theories of the heterosexist preachers and the model minority status of the aspiring educated urban youths. Too many temptations, I am sure.

However, there are just a very few goals in order to attain social justice for the most, and despite that, its often invariably less taken. And they are not so difficult to head towards, if one knows that individual life is as precious as one’s convictions would lead one to believe. Bhagat Singh as an instance, clearly overlooked, ignored and trampled the individual yardsticks (and came down heavily on his ‘good-family’ background in the following letter) when it came to deciding between the individual liberty and social equality principles, and clearly upholding the need of social equality, he took the road less taken.

At the same time, its important to remember that he never acted alone, and never on an impulse. Never as a terrorist. Never as a trigger-happy war-monger. Never as a violent reactionary.

He was a great organizer and agitator, and to educate his own self and that of his comrades, he looked into oceans of progressive literatures. His was a planned commitment to attainment of freedom from imperialistic designs, not just a national liberation that would have transferred power from the colonialists to petty bourgeois. As this following letter would amply show: he was “pursuing a definite policy”.

I am always deeply moved by Bhagat Singh’s sacrifices and so have at times found his death was in vain. There have been such occasions while looking at the state of affairs among today’s youths when it has seemed so very hopeless. Yet, revolutionaries do not look backwards to proceed, they look back only to learn so as to march forward even with greater vigor. Hence the reality is that Bhagat Singh must continue to be an inspiration to many of us in our different worlds and we must feel the resonance every time there is a struggle against religious fundamentalism, against irrational superstitions, against orthodoxy, against conservatism and against narrow nationalists. Every time there is an uncompromising battle against the warlords, the police states, the rogue powerholders, a battle that has international sentiments echoing with the courage of Che Guevera and valor of Salvador Allende. All of them have represented the need of global unity against forces of injustice, against mighty powers of economic and social exploiters.

I am sure the following letter is a good prologue to the example we need to exemplify:

“Respected dear father,
“I was astounded to learn that you had submitted a petition to the members of the Special Tribunal in connection with my defense. This intelligence proved to be too severe a blow to be borne with equanimity. It has upset the whole equilibrium of my mind. I have not been able to understand how you could think it proper to submit such a petition at this stage and in these circumstances. In spite of all the sentiments and feeling of a father, I don’t think, you were at all entitled to make such a move on my behalf without even consulting me. You know that in the political field my views have always differed with those of yours. I have always been acting independently, without having cared for your approval or disapproval.

“I hope you can recall to yourself that since the very beginning you have been trying to convince me to fight my case very seriously and to defend myself properly. But you also know that I was always opposed to it. I never had any desire to defend myself and never did I seriously think about it, whether it was a mere vague ideology or that I had certain arguments to justify my position, is a different question and that cannot be discussed here.

“You know that we have been pursuing a definite policy in this trial. Every action of mine ought to have been consistent with that policy, my principles and the program. At present the circumstances were altogether different but had the situation been otherwise, even then I would have been the last man to offer defense. I had only one idea before me throughout the trial, i.e., to show complete indifference towards the trial in spite of the serious nature of the charges against us. I have always been of opinion that all the political workers should be indifferent and should never bother about the legal fight in the law courts and should boldly bear the heaviest possible sentences inflicted upon them. They may defend themselves but always from purely political considerations and never from a personal point of view. Our policy in this trial has always been consistent with this principle. Whether we were successful in that or not is not for me to judge. We have always been doing our duty quite disinterestedly.

“In the statement accompanying the text of the Lahore Conspiracy Case Ordinance the Viceroy had stated that the accused in this case were trying to bring both law and justice into contempt. The situation afforded us an opportunity to show to the public whether we were trying to bring law into contempt or whether others were doing so. People might disagree with us on this point. You might be one of them. But that never meant that such moves should be made on my behalf without my consent or even my knowledge. My life is not so precious – at least to me – as you may probably think it to be. It is not at all worth buying at the cost of my principles. There are other comrades of mine whose case is as serious as that of mine. We had adopted a common policy, and have so far stood shoulder to shoulder, so shall we stand to the last—no matter how dearly we have to pay individually for it.

“Father, I am quite perplexed. I fear I might overlook the ordinary principles of etiquette, and my language may become a little bit harsh while criticizing or rather censuring this move on your part. Let me be candid, I feel as though I have been stabbed at the back. Had any other person done it, I would have considered it to be nothing short of treachery, but in your case let me say that it has been a weakness—a weakness of the worst type.

“This was the time when everybody’s mettle was being tested. Let me say, father, you have failed. I know you are as sincere a patriot as one can be. I know you have devoted your life to the cause of Indian independence; but why at this moment have you displayed such a weakness? I cannot understand.

“In the end I would like to inform you and my other friends and all the people interested in my case, that I have not approved of your move. I am still not at all in favor of offering any defense. Even if the court had accepted that petition submitted by some of my co-accused regarding defense etc., I would have not defended myself. My applications submitted to the Tribunal regarding my interview during the hunger-strike were misinterpreted and it was published in the press that I was going to offer defense, though in reality I was never willing to offer any defense. I still hold the same opinion as before. My friends in the Borstal Jail will be taking it as a treachery and betrayal on my part. I shall not even get an opportunity to clear my position before them.

“I want that the public should know all the details about this complication and therefore, I request you to publish this letter.
Yours obediently,
Bhagat Singh

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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