Bhagat Singh: A Connected Past for a Connected Future
by Ravi Nitesh
Published at Daily Times
Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom day was observed in various parts of world, especially in India and Pakistan. He was a revolutionary leader, fighter and thinker who fought for the cause of freedom during the independence struggle in the Indian subcontinent. He, along with his companions Sukhdev and Rajguru were awarded death penalty in the case of central assembly bomb case and on 23rd March 1931, they were hanged till death at what is now called Shadman Chowk in Lahore (Pakistan).
But even today, after 82 years, he lives in the hearts of people of both India and Pakistan. With partition, as India and Pakistan parted ways, they divided many things, drew lines on the land, water and even the sky, but they could not divide and capture memories. He is our shared past, memory and pride. People, especially youth, of both countries derive inspiration and courage from him.
In this article, I attempt to explore the relevance of this shared memory and pride for not only a more equal and just society but to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan.
Bhagat Singh fought for ‘us’
Being a pre-partition revolutionary, Bhagat Singh neither fought for India nor for Pakistan as at that time, none existed. He fought for independence of his land from the British rule. He would have never even imagined the existence of India and Pakistan and if he would have been alive, he would have been certainly one of the most disheartened people. I imagine him as the ficitional character of Toba Tek Singh created by Saadat Hasan Manto. I think that like him, he would experienced the same pain, had he lived to see independence.
Bhagat Singh is an ideology
The British had ordered death sentence to Bhagat Singh even though the bomb that he and his companions threw was clearly intended to only create a chaos and not to cause injury because they feared that his ideas, his thinking could spread. They wanted to put an end not to his life, but to the dissemination of his ideas. But were they successful? Till today, people remember his great sacrifice. The British could only capture his body, not his ideas.
But it is sad that today, we see that people only remember him. They remember his great sacrifice. But not his ideology which was based on justice, truth and equality. Few knows about his vision that demands rights for all. He detested all forms of discriminations. It is even more terrible in India where all kinds of groups are trying to capture his image. Right-wing groups are trying to saffronise his image. Bhagat Singh was not communal. He was not an aggressive and blind nationalist. His ideas were an anti-thesis to the ideas of the right-wing. Yet, we see that Bhagat Singh is being misinterpreted.
Bhagat Singh was great and inspiring. It is not enough to remember him. It is important to learn from his ideas, his vision as they will not only give us a sense of pride but will also lead us towards progress and harmony. His great sacrifice must be taught to inspire people, especially the youth, to make them better human beings and citizens.
Re-name Shadman Chowk to pay tribute to the people’s hero
The place where Bhagat Singh and his companions were hanged is now referred to as the Shadman Chowk. It is in Lahore. There has been a long-standing demand by many activists in Pakistan to rename the chowk as Bhagat Singh chowk to honour the hero.
Naming it after Bhagat Singh will be a form of a tribute to his great sacrifice for justice. The chowk will stand as a monument of a collective memory not only for the people of Pakistan but also for the people of India. It will be a monument of peace. It will be seen as a positive step taken by Pakistan for making peace with India. It is because Bhagat Singh is much respected in India and so millions of Indians will support the decision with respect. Doing so, it can prove to be a tool for mental transformation among people in India with xenophobic views.
Re-naming the monument will also be symbolic of religious harmony. Though Bhagat Singh was an atheist, he was a sikh by birth. Honouring him can send a positive message to the religious minorities in Pakistan. Honouring him will only add to the glory of Pakistan. Constitutionally, Pakistan gives equal rights to the minorities. The white portion in the Pakistan flag represents the minorities. But unfortunately there have been increasing incidents of violence against the minorities by extremist groups. In this scenario, this step can send a strong message of love and harmony.
Bhagat Singh: A hope for peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pak relations
To conclude, I feel that Bhagat Singh can prove himself this time as well as a revolutionary for Indo-Pak Peace and Friendship. Our shared hero would not have liked that inspite of being free from the British rule, people and government(s) are still imprisoned with stereotyped thinking. He would not have thought of us as two different people, he knew that we are just the same. So let’s not just honour Bhagat Singh, let’s also honour his thoughts. Let’s not just remember his vision but also try to achieve his goal of a future of peace and harmony.
Ravi Nitesh is the founder of Mission Bhartiyam (India) and a core member of Aaghaz-e-Dosti