“As regard the origin of God, my thought is that man created God in his imagination when he realised his weaknesses, limitations and shortcomings. In this way he got the courage to face all the trying circumstances and to meet all dangers that might occur in his life and also to restrain his outbursts in prosperity and affluence. God, with his whimsical laws and parental generosity was painted with variegated colours of imagination. He was used as a deterrent factor when his fury and his laws were repeatedly propagated so that man might not become a danger to society. He was the cry of the distressed soul for he was believed to stand as father and mother, sister and brother, brother and friend when in time of distress a man was left alone and helpless. He was Almighty and could do anything. The idea of God is helpful to a man in distress.”
The above is an excerpt from an essay written by Sardar Bhagat Singh on being asked about being an atheist by a fellow inmate Randhir Singh during his stay at the Lahore Jail in 1930-1931. Today we honour the memory of Sardar Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru as it was on this day 23rd March, 1931 when the three of them were hanged by the British in charges for the Lahore Conspiracy Case. Celebrated as Martyr’s Day, the extract from the essay he wrote is ironically very important in today’s times given in general the communal stance of not just the ruling party but also of those in opposition. It is not the fact that Bhagat Singh was an atheist that makes things interesting but it is the ‘why’ behind his thinking that makes for a good discussion.
Bhagat Singh was born in a Sikh family in 1907 in the Punjab province of British India. His father and uncles were all a part of the national freedom movement which inspired him to actively participate in the freedom struggle from an early age. The Jalianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919 and the shootings at Gurudwara Nankana Sahib in present day Pakistan left a deep impact on him forcing him to move away from the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence. Being an avid writer, Bhagat Singh wrote for various newspapers and journals which were published in Amritsar at the time and used pseudonyms such as Ranjit and Vidrohi to uphold his views against the British Empire.
It was in 1927 after he had founded the Naujawan Bharat Sabha and joined the Hindustan Republican Association that Bhagat Singh fled his home on being forced to marry. He left a letter saying, “My life has been dedicated to the noblest cause, that of the freedom of the country. Therefore, there is no rest or worldly desire that can lure me now.” Such was his conviction and determination for his country’s freedom from the British. After the death of Lala Lajpat Rai because of the lathi charge on the protestors of which Lalaji was a part, Bhagat Singh along with Sivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar plotted to kill the superintendent of police James A. Scott and mistakingly killed the 21 year old John P. Saunders who was at the time the assistant to the superintendent of police. In 1929, Bhagat Singh along with Batukeshwar Dutt bombed the Central Legislative Assembly, showered the assembly with pamphlets stating their cause and shouted the famous slogan “Inqalab Zindabad” (Long Live The Revolution). Despite of having a clear chance to escape both the men stood there awaiting their arrest.
By April 1929, most of the prominent members of HSRA were arrested and held accounted for Saunders’ murder and the assembly bombings. Singh was already serving a life imprisonment at the time but the bomb factories discovered in Lahore and Saharanpur ultimately got him a death sentence by the British. It was during this stay in the jail that Bhagat Singh along with the likes of Jatindra Nath Das, Rajguru and Sukhdev massively gained support on a national scale. It was also during this time that Bhagat Singh and Jatindra Nath Das along with 5 other freedom fighters started their hunger strike in opposition to the poor conditions of the Indian inmates in the jail. The fast ended for Jatindra after 63 days with Jatindra sacrificing his life in the process. Singh carried on the fast and only ended it on the request of his father after a heart wrenching 113 days of uncompromised hunger. All that in the name of the country.
The mentioned incident launched Bhagat Singh and his fellow inmates to an unprecedented fame on a national scale which was exactly the outcome they desired. At one point Bhagat Singh’s picture was sold at almost every city in the country. If historians are to be believed, he even surpassed Gandhi in this aspect. Every young blood in the country looked upto Bhagat, Sukhdev and Rjaguru for the determination they had.
Jawaharlal Nehru met the protestors at the Mianwali Jail during the hunger strike. He said, “I was very much pained to see the distress of the heroes. They have staked their lives in this struggle. They want that political prisoners should be treated as political prisoners. I am quite hopeful that their sacrifice would be crowned with success.” HSRA”s efforts in prison were of such magnitude that even Mohammad Ali Jinnah spoke in their support in the assembly saying, “The man who goes on hunger strike has a soul. He is moved by that soul, and he believes in the justice of his cause … however much you deplore them and, however, much you say they are misguided, it is the system, this damnable system of governance, which is resented by the people.”
The point in discussing his life is simple, if it comes to the welfare of the country and its people everything else is a distraction. In Bhagat Singh’s case even food. If a person can let go off food for his country, religion comes far down the line. Bhagat Singh even stated that he does believe in a superior power but at the same time did not consider it an excuse to distract himself from the one goal he had, his nation’s freedom for he valued freedom over everything else. Religion in present day India is nothing short of what British were during their tenure as the oppressors. Religion as a concept has divided, dominated and been of more harm to India than any other social belief.
Towards the end of the same essay, Bhagat Singh wrote:
“Let us see how steadfast I am. One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “When your last days come, you will begin to believe.” I said, “No, dear sir, Never shall it happen. I consider it to be an act of degradation and demoralisation. For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray.” Reader and friends, is it vanity? If it is, I stand for it.”
Do you? Because if you do than you must stand for the country before any religion can rip your notion of a nation apart. Jai Hind