Monday, 15 July 2019
Friday, 24 May 2019
Azaadi for All
An exhaustive documentation of the intellectual legacy of Bhagat Singh
Written by S Irfan Habib |Published: May 18, 2019 2:40:57 am
The Bhagat Singh Reader
The Bhagat Singh Reader
Chaman Lal (ed)
Chaman Lal (ed)
Chaman Lal has spent many years documenting the history of revolutionary struggle, particularly the profile of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. He is one of the few who see Bhagat Singh as an ideologue, and not just a nationalist martyr. It is now more or less established that Bhagat Singh was a prolific writer, an insightful thinker and a sensitive young nationalist who left behind a rich intellectual legacy. In recent years, we have seen a good collection of his writings in Hindi, but a more exhaustive collection in English was awaited — a collection not only of his writings but also his letters to family and friends. Though many of the writings included here are available in other collections as well, quite a few letters and documents are accessible for the first time.
The Bhagat Singh Reader displays the extensive and diverse writings of Bhagat Singh within a short active life of just seven years. He wrote in four languages — Urdu, Hindi, English and Punjabi — but was most proficient in Urdu and English. Chaman Lal also says that Bhagat Singh understood Bengali very well, and could recite Kazi Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore fluently in Bengali. He wrote more than 130 documents, including letters, pamphlets, articles, manifestos and court statements, which run into nearly 400 pages. No mean achievement for someone who spent most of his active life under police surveillance and the last two years in prison.
This volume reaffirms the fact that Bhagat Singh not only sacrificed his life, like many did before him and after him, but he also had a vision of independent India. During the past few years, it has almost become routine to appropriate Bhagat Singh as a nationalist icon, while not much is talked about his nationalist vision. This collection will reaffirm the fact that Bhagat Singh was one of those rare intellectuals who visualised an India where 98 per cent would rule instead of an elite 2 per cent. His azaadi was not limited to the expulsion of the British. Rather, he desired azaadi from poverty, untouchability, communal strife and other forms of discrimination and exploitation.
Bhagat Singh wrote with passion against untouchability, the caste system and communalism, the very issues which continue to rattle and shame us. All those who valorise him today for his nationalism and martyrdom need to grapple with his intellectual legacy. Like a few other researchers in India and elsewhere, Chaman Lal has diligently explored and documented his work to establish him as a revolutionary thinker, with a pluralist and egalitarian ethos.
In a hard-hitting article against untouchability and caste, Bhagat Singh held that ritualism had divided us into touchables and untouchables, and that narrow and divisive religions can’t unite the people. After the end of British colonialism, our complete freedom would imply living together happily, without caste and religious barriers. He needs to be invoked even today, to bring about the changes that he strove for in his short life. Expressing his anguish in an article, he held some of the political leaders and the press responsible for inciting communalism. Bhagat Singh believed that “there were a few sincere leaders, but their voice is easily swept away by the rising wave of communalism. In terms of political leadership, India had gone totally bankrupt”. Written in 1928, this sounds so contemporary.
Bhagat Singh matured as a thinker through extensive reading and writing during his two years in jail. His ‘Jail Notebook’, included in The Bhagat Singh Reader, reveals the trajectory of his political evolution. It shows his wide reading — Marx, Engels, Bertrand Russell, Thomas Paine, Upton Sinclair, VI Lenin, William Wordsworth, Tennyson, Rabindranath Tagore, Bukharin and Trotsky, among others. Chaman Lal also narrates the story behind the public appearance of the ‘Jail Notebook’ in the 1980s, when Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and the National Archives acquired copies. I was, perhaps, the first researcher to get hold of it as a typescript in 1977-78, and I used it for my research on Bhagat Singh’s intellectual development.
One of Bhagat Singh’s most profound articles, ‘Why I am an Atheist’, was also written in jail. A strong rebuttal of blind faith and a zealous defence of reason, it should not be seen merely as a harangue against God. Besides the ‘Jail Notebook’, ‘Letter to Young Political Workers’ and ‘Introduction to Dreamland’ are prison writings establishing his political and intellectual maturity.
Lal has included all the manifestos and court statements of Bhagat Singh, which shed light on his conception of revolution. His inquilab was not merely a political revolution. He wanted a social revolution to end age-old discriminatory practices. Inquilab zindabad was not merely an emotional battle cry but a lofty ideal which was explained by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, thus: “The Revolution will ring the death knell of capitalism and class distinction and privileges… It will give birth to a new state — a new social order.”
Bhagat Singh was even more definitive in his statement in court on June 6, 1929: “Revolution is not a culture of bomb and pistol. Our meaning of revolution is to change the present conditions, which are based on manifest injustice.”
I believe The Bhagat Singh Reader will make the going difficult for those who want to valorise him as a raw nationalist. It is an exhaustive collection of most of his writings in a short and eventful life, a very useful aid to future researchers on the subject, and a wonderful guide to a composite and pluralist India.
S Irfan Habib is a Delhi-based historian
Sunday, 28 April 2019
Fulfilment of a mission in life
As The Bhagat Singh Reader appeared in print by 13th April 2019 from HarperCollins India, it gave me the greatest satisfaction in life, ironically at the age of 71+ years. Had this satisfaction come a few years before in 50+ age, perhaps I could have enjoyed this satisfaction a bit longer. Still, it is fine. Last year on 23rd March 2018, setting up of Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre in Delhi Archives, Delhi has also given me great satisfaction, though some irritation also, but with the publication of this volume and with archives functioning has completed my mission in life to promote the ideas of Bhagat Singh, which has now reached at a higher level!
When Rajkamal Prakashan brought out Bhagat Singh aur Unke Sathiyon ke Dastavez in 1986, 33 years ago, and at the beginning of my academic career in Punjabi University Patiala, I did not think that I will make it a mission in my life to work further on collecting Bhagat Singh’s writings and finally bringing out it in from some reputed international publisher in English. In 2004, I came out with Bhagat Singh ke Sampuran Dastavez from Aadhar Prakashan Panchkula, while still serving Punjabi University Patiala at that time. But there was no such excitement at that publication and after joining JNU in the year 2005 beginning, I took to pay more attention towards collecting more material and documents of, and on Bhagat Singh, it led to the publication of complete documents from Publication division of Govt. of India, during Bhagat Singh birth centenary in 2007 in Hindi, still I was not excited so much. Though by that time I had signed an agreement with Penguins India to bring out The Bhagat Singh Reader by 2009 in English. Despite being happy and excited with this, somehow, I did not pay much attention and remained engaged in JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA) activities as its President in the year 2007 and remained occupied being Chairperson of Centre of Indian Languages (CIL) during 2008-10. Then got an offer of being Visiting Professor in the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, I thought that I would complete the task during this period. But the temptation to visit countries around took priority and on return in 2012 beginning, did start paying attention to Bhagat Singh Reader. In the meantime, Penguins management changed and it started cancelling long pending contracts. Wendy Doniger book was pulped by Penguins in this period. Still, a further rise of Modi even before coming to power started changing the scene of the publishing world. I finally submitted the manuscript by September 2013, but it did not find favour with the publisher and they cancelled the contract. It was greatly disappointing. I was so upset that I wrote to many friends in anguish about it, then Oxford University Press took an interest, but they dragged feet. Finally, V K Karthika, who was the first to accept it for Penguins, again came forward from HarperCollins India and by the time she could assign an editor for it, she joined Westland! But HarperCollins new editor Udyan Mitra and Shantanu Gupta formalized and Prema Govindan was appointed an editor to deal with the manuscript and the target for 23rd March 2019 was decided. The contract was signed even on better terms from Penguins and again felt excited and started working on manuscript once again. This time I tried to remove the earlier flaws and made the mss compact, though it became larger too. Though in delayed publication, the more and more newly found documents could be added, one document was added in March 2019 itself. The number of documents has reached 130, whereas in 2007 Publication division edition, it was only 100. The publisher was ready to publish a larger volume. The first three months of the year 2019 were mostly devoted to editing the mss from editors and myself helping in the process, as the matter was huge and from editing point of view, quite complicated.
The title was made and the book was announced around 23rd March in media, the date was given 28th March. But there were many errors still and I took to correct these, still one or two minor errors did go in the print edition, which is promised to be corrected in the next edition. Checked on amazon.uk, I found UK edition of the book has been announced for March 2020 and its advance sale is already on. Though Kindle edition has been made available world over and its priced much lower than any other book of this size, nearly 700 pages. In fact, print price is also kept much lower as I wished from the publisher and it is being sold even at nearly 50% discount. Amazon.us is also offering the book at about 31 dollar price in print and 6 dollars for kindle edition. I wished maximum readers could buy this book, especially the youth and students, throughout the world. Book date was given 25th April later, but it came on 13th April eve, the hundredth anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh tragedy-a right occasion. I got the first copy in Delhi on 16th April from the publisher and did some reading from it on the same day at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts along with Kishwar Desai, who read from her book on Jallianwala Bagh. Book has been brought out beautifully, I wished to have its release function, but the publisher wants it after the elections.
Incidentally around same time Publication Division also wished to bring out its 2007 documents edition in collaboration with Sasta Sahitya Mandal and I suggested to make it in three volumes and they accepted my proposal. I completed editing Hindi edition as well, which they thought they can bring out by 23rd March. It may now come bit late; I have to go through the final typed manuscript to check errors. In the meantime, Publication Division updated Hindi edition in its Urdu edition in 2014, taking the documents to near completion so was its Marathi translation in 2016 edition. So, now the complete writings editions in English and Hindi both in the same year are a source of great satisfaction and joy. As Amarjit Chandan said it is ‘fulfilment of life’-Janam Safla Bhayia-
Now what more I need to do? Even if nothing more is added in terms of publications, I can remain now satisfied with life. Yet I have a few more plans, if achieved, would add to my satisfaction with life.
1. Editing of articles from Mainstream weekly on Bhagat Singh with Sumit Chakravarti, about which I had spoken to him a few times. The best articles on Bhagat Singh have been published in Mainstream and that can become the most authentic evaluation of Bhagat Singh.
2. Another documentation-Bhagat Singh: Through Colonial and Nationalist Perspective. Documents from National Archives and NMML from colonial records and Indian leaders’ views can be put in contrast.
3. Another volume on young revolutionaries-They Died Young for the Nation/Country-which can have sketches of Kartar Singh Sarabha, Khudiram Bose like young revolutionaries.
4. My two books on Hindi literature and two volumes on Punjabi literature are pending publication. Now these may be taken up
5. More importantly after setting up Bhagat Singh archives and securing long life for rare books and documents of freedom struggle, I do wish to gift my literature and other collection of books to some library. The first priority is my home town Public Library Rampura Phul, which created consciousness of literature and knowledge in me from my childhood, but they may not have space and utility. Second preference could be Central University of Punjab (CUP), Bathinda, where I taught for a year in post-retirement year 2014, and had earlier gifted books nearly 2000, which is my home district. Third preference could be my alumnus institutions either PU Chandigarh or JNU, New Delhi. Punjabi University Patiala could be another option, where I taught for nearly two decades before joining JNU in the last phase of my academic job. This task also must be completed in the next two years or so. But I need to have assurance from any of these institutions, accepting my gift, of proper care, space and my association with the institution for my lifetime.
Friday, 26 April 2019
Saturday, 13 April 2019
Khooni Baisakhi (Bloody Baisakhi) of 1919-Rowlatt act-hundred years later similar laws continue
History is said to repeat itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce. This is happening hundred years later in case of Jallianwala Bagh centenary celebrations also. While British Parliament has discussed this event as matter raised by Indian background Parliament members and Prime Minister Theresa May had to respond by ‘deeply regretting’ the incident, but not ‘apologising’ for the British colonial Raj’s atrocities on Indian people. While we expect British colonial past to be condemned by the present British rulers, what is our response to this monumental event of the century, which became a perennial phrase for all the atrocities committed and being committed by any ruler-British and later ‘Desi’ rulers of various hues-be it Congress or now BJP! ‘One more Jallianwala Bagh’ phrase has been used for any atrocity committed by police or armed forces, sometimes used even farcically also, as for killing of a student, farmer, worker or common man. Not that the killing even of a single person is justified, but the use of such phrase as ‘one more Jallianwala’ reduces the monumental tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh to a convenient political jugglery.
The background of Jallianwala Bagh goes back to 1918, when Lord Chelmsford formed a formed a sedition committee led by Lord Sidney Rowlatt, this committee discussed the increasing revolutionary activities in Punjab and Bengal especially, as Ghadar party movement erupted in 1915. Sedition committee report was submitted in April 1918 and based on that report a new oppressive act-The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes act of 1919, popularly known as Rowaltt act or Black act was passed in Imperial legislative council in Delhi on 10th March 1919, resisted by Indian members stoutly. It created strong reaction among Indian leaders of that time and Mahatma Gandhi, who was shaping into a national leader gave a call for strike on 30th March 1919. As the notice for strike was considered short, it was postponed to 6th April to be observed as national strike. Still on 30th March also, strike was observed in many places including Delhi, where some violence took place and in retaliation much worse police atrocities too took place. In that year Congress party was planning to hold its session in Amritsar. As Mahatma Gandhi had not visited Punjab anytime before, he took train to Punjab to reach before 6th April national strike, however after 30th March Delhi protests, he was not even allowed to enter Delhi and was stopped at Palwal and sent back.
Disturbances in Amritsar and Punjab took sharp turn. 9th April was Ram Naumi day in 1919, Dr. Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew were two popular congress leaders of Punjab. With their influence Ram Naumi this year was celebrated by Hindus and Muslims jointly. This frightened British rulers as Hindu Muslim unity was earlier shown in 1857 and then in 1915 Ghadar movement. Both Dr. Satya Pal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew(A Cashmere settled in Amritsar) were arrested by deceit on 10th April, they were invited for talks at Deputy Commissioner and were arrested and sent out of Punjab to some undisclosed location. This angered the general public. There were clashes with police on 11th April One British lady Sherwood was attacked as some male British officials. Sherwood was rescued, but few other British officers were killed. Protest meetings were called and 25 people died protesting on Bhadari bridge. On 13th April, a public meeting was called at 4.30 pm in Jallianwala Bagh, a common meeting place for citizenery. While General Dyer had moved from Jalandhar to Amritsar a day earlier with support from Michael O’Dwyer, Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. General Dyer took his forces to Jallianwala Bagh with only a narrow exit and without any warning to disperse, started firing incessantly on people directly. In ten minutes, 1650 rounds of firing were done and hundreds of people were turned into dead bodies in few minutes. No medical aid was provided, many people could have been saved, but the terror in whole city was such that during whole night of 13th April, people kept dyeing without water, medical aid. Only next morning people could reach the Bagh and render help to dead and half dead bodies there. Bhagat Singh visited Bagh next day and got one jar filled with blood-soaked sand of the Bagh, which is still preserved in Khatkar Kalan memorial museum in Bhagat Singh’s ancestral village.
The details of tragedy are being relived in pages of The Tribune and many other papers after hundred years. Martial law was clamped all over Punjab by 15th April and General Dyer ordered crawling of citizens crossing the narrow lane in Amritsar, where lady Sherwood was attacked and rescued. Thousands of men, women, old and children were made to crawl for many yards and were flogged as well in that street for many days. In many other cities like Gujranwala, Lahore and other places massive repression took place.
Poets and writers expressed the anguish of people in their writings, many of which were banned. Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Nanak Singh, Feroz Din Sharaf and many more poets and writers expressed their anguish. Nanak Singh, who was in his twenties at that time, was in Bagh for the meeting and was lying under dead bodies, got escaped next day and aptly titled his poem Khuni Baisakhi(Bloody Baisakhi), written after a year, which was banned and has now been translated in English by his grandson Navdeep Suri.
Mahatma Gandhi withdrew his Satyagraha by 19th April. Tagore renounced his knighthood given by British colonialists. People suffered for months together and generations suffered the memories of tragedy and still suffer.
Many questions arise, when celebrating the centenary of such monumental tragedy. Such tragedies are norm of colonial rulers and not exception. Much worse atrocities took place in Mau Mau movement of Kenya five decades later between 1952 to 1959. Assessment of killings vary from official 11000 to three million in anther extreme. Moderate assessment is of 25000 killings. In Jallianwala Bagh official number in 379, but Congress report number is about one thousand. Ram Singh Majithia in his two-volume book in Punjabi published in sixties listed nearly 460 deaths, he even put the names and break up of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims killed jointly during the firing. Lately Amritsar district administration have collected names of 500+ victims of massacre. British colonial administration started paying pittance of compensation after a gap of more than one year, many families never approached out of fear or lack of information. Compensation was largely paid from fifty rupees to few hundred rupees in large number of cases, whereas only in one case perhaps one lakh plus rupees were paid as compensation. The value of human life was counted as per class of the persons, poor people’s deaths were paid in just few hundred bucks, richer people’s deaths earned bit more.
When there is talk of apology, present British rulers feared the demand for compensation will arise with apology. And why should the demand not arise? Few years ago, a British court has ruled British Government to pay millions of pounds to survivors or decedents of Mau Mau movement. Why Jallianwala Bagh be treated differently, successors of colonial rulers must be made to pay for their systemic crimes. Colonialism was a system approved by successive Parliaments of Britain and continuity demands the compensation from present rulers as well Rulers don’t pay from their pockets, they pay from public funds and Brittan as colonial power had squeezed Asian and African colonised countries ruthlessly to enrich British ruling classes or British bourgeoise , a part of return of colonial loot is totally justifiable and just action, as done by a British court.
But do the Indian ruling classes have the guts to ask for compensation for British colonial crimes? Indian ruling classes don’t give much importance to Jallianwala Bagh historic tragedy as supreme symbol of Indian freedom struggle, otherwise how come that for centenary celebrations, head of the state-President of India is not going there. Sending Vice President for the centenary function is just undermining, even disrespecting the significance of the monumental tragedy.
Not only that, Indian ruling classes are following British colonial practices, a ban has been imposed in Amritsar and Jallianwala Bagh for the free movement of people to pay homage to martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh. Many peasant, workers, student and youth organisations have planned marches to Jalliawala Bagh monument, which has been put to restrictions. Tragedy of people has been turned into celebration of VIP’s. And further more, Indian ruling classes are continuing with such oppressive laws as Rowlatt act after a hundred years of the tragedy. British colonialism was forced to withdraw that act in three years. Rowlatt act was withdrawn by 1922, but what about DIR, MISA, UAPA and AFPSA continuing for decades in ‘desi’ rulers ruled India. Was not Bhagat Singh correct in observing that it hardly makes any difference if Purshottam Das Thakkar or Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru become Viceroys in place of Lord Reading or Lord Irwin, if the system of oppression and exploitation continues and who can say that system of exploitation and oppression has ended with British rule. Worse still the communal cauldron is made to burn, a Lok Sabha candidate Kanhaiya Kumar has alleged that RSS/BJP is trying to stoke Hindu-Muslim riots in 2019 Ram Naumi falling during elections and you see 1919 April Ram Naumi celebrated jointly by Hindus and Muslims in fervour. Muslim even served sweet water to their Hindu brethren during the festival. Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal were the symbols of Hindu-Muslim unity and brotherhood during national movement and that unity and brotherhood is put to danger by so called ‘nationalists’ of 2019!
Have we really learned lessons from-Jallianwala Bagh-the monumental tragedy! Meanwhile our ‘Desi’ rulers continue with communal massacres of bigger scale than Jallianwala Bagh massacres; #Delhi1984, #Gujarat2002, #3LakhPeasantSucides in 21st century and of course British rulers must apologise and compensate for Jallianwala Bagh, but our ‘Desi’ rulers are free to commit any atrocities on our people! After all they are ‘Desi’-free India rulers, why should they apologise or compensate?!
*Chaman Lal is a retired Professor from JNUfirstname.lastname@example.org 9868774820(mobile
Sunday, 7 April 2019
23rd March is martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, they were martyred by hanging by British colonialism on 23rd March 1931. Since then this day is marked by seminars, memorial functions ,lectures and even cultural programmes like plays and singing of revolutionary and resistance songs. For the last few years, the number of functions have considerably increased. Functions are now held almost all over India and even abroad by different sections of people, but mostly by mass organisations struggling for democratic rights of the Indian people.
This 23rd March marked the first anniversary of Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource centre, set up in Delhi archives. The function was held to mark the occasion. Along with that I attended six more functions in March itself to mark the martyrdom day of three martyrs.
The first function was in Dineshpur near Rudarpur in Uttrakhand on 10th March, which was held in memory of local journalist and people's issues of democratic rights were discussed, apart from releasing collection of editorials of Dinehpur journal.
Second function was of course to mark the first anniversary of Bhagat Singh archives, which was attended by Sheonan Singh and Abhey Sandhu, two nephews of Bhagat Singh, apart from officials of Delhi Government. On 23rd March itself IIT Alumni association held a function to mark the martyrdom day. Swaraj TV invited me to participate on discussion on Bhagat Singh's ideas on same evening.
Kisan Sabha organised a lecture on Bhagat Singh'd ideas contemporary relevance on 24th March at Palwal in Haryana. On 26th March a function was held in Jamia Milia Islamia Delhi to mark the occasion, where Gauhar Raza, Kavita Kihnan and myself spoke to the students of Jamia. On 27th March, students of Dyal Singh college organised lecture to mark the day, where Sucheta Dey, Gauhar and myself spoke. Lawyers Union organised a lecture by me on Bhagat Singh's interaction with legal fraternity and his views on jurisprudence on 27th March itself at Rohini court complex. Participating in seven programmes in March gave me great satisfaction.
Over and above HarperCollins India released the advertisement of advance sale of The Bhagat Singh Reader, to be given to readers from 25th April or so. Sasta Sahitya Mandal Delhi and Publiction Bureau Delhi are also briging out new edition of complete writings of Bhagat Singh in Hindi in three volumes, hopefully this very month. With these publications, complete writings of Bhagat Singh will now be available at least in four languages-Hindi, English, Urdu and Marathi in single volumes or in single edition. I feel my life long mission to spread Bhagat Singh's ideas through his own writings is now nearing completion and I can feel satisfied with that.
Some photographs of these programmes are posted in this album. .