(Re)Claiming Bhagat Singh


Around town, cars, trucks and SUVs sport stickers of Bhagat Singh (1907-1931). The Bhagat Singh in those stickers wears a turban and curls his moustache. He is a Sikh and a Jatt once more, a “shaheed” (martyr) reclaimed by the Punjabi Sikh Jatt drivers of Greater Vancouver.

Sikh? In “Why I am an Atheist,” Bhagat Singh writes that he gave up any belief “in the mythology and doctrines of Sikhism or any other religion.” Indeed, he renounced any belief in a God.  When Bhagat Singh formed the Naujawan Bharat Sabha in 1926, each member was required upon enrollment to sign a pledge that he would place the interest of country above community. Bhagat Singh did so by cutting his hair and removing his beard.

Jatt? Bhagat Singh advocated revolution “by the masses and for the masses” to eliminate caste and other social divisions. “We are all born equal” he wrote in “The Problem of Untouchability.” The Sabha organized social dinners in which people of all castes served each other. He supported the untouchables demand for separate electorates arguing that such rights were necessary unless caste based discrimination was done away with. India would never be fully independent, he wrote , until social, political and individual equality of opportunity was guaranteed to all.

Shaheed? Indians and Pakistanis are fond of deifying their leaders. Just as Gandhi is a “Mahatma” and Jinnah a “Quaid-e-Azam,” Bhagat Singh is a “Shaheed,” an idol to be worshipped, not an example to emulate; yet, Bhagat Singh doesn’t need the title of Shaheed just as Joan of Arc or Martin Luther King Jr. do not need the title of Martyr. For to invoke the spirit of a young revolutionary, willing to die for the cause of establishing a fully independent country, free of religion and caste, two words suffice: Bhagat Singh.

Written by Randeep Singh

Further Reading:

“Why I am an Atheist”: http://www.marxists.org/archive/bhagat-singh/1930/10/05.htm

The Jail Notebook and Other Writings: http://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Jail_Notebook_and_Other_Writings.html?id=OAq4N60oopEC&redir_esc=y

“The Problem of Untouchability” (‘Achoot ka Sawaal’): quotations at http://www.countercurrents.org/yadav231209.htm.

“Religion and Our Freedom Struggle” (‘Dharm aur hamara swatantrata sangram’)

“Communal Riots and Their Solution” (‘Sampradayik dange aur unka Ilaj’).

“India: Bhagat Singh’s writings against communalism and untouchability,” S. Irfan Habib, May 26, 2009: http://www.sacw.net/article929.html